Seth was raised with the knowledge of what exactly goes bump in the night. Not to make him afraid, but to teach him to be cautious, to take care of himself. He always wears his crucifix and is careful about meeting the eyes of strangers.
He trains with his aunts during the summer, because that's what's expected. He doesn't mind because they are hardcore when it comes to conditioning, and the hand-to-hand stuff and learning to shoot is fun. But it's not the life he wants. Hockey is what he loves, hockey is what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
When he gets drafted, Seth thinks he's leaving that behind. He thinks he's going to be like everyone else, cheerfully oblivious to that shadow world.
And then he finds out about Roman.
Ryan's looking at his phone when Seth comes out of the bathroom. "Consolation room service in Smitty's room?" Ryan asks.
"Yeah, okay," Seth says, and follows him down a couple more doors.
It's just a couple of the younger guys sprawled out on the beds, what looks like Robocop on in the background. Seth puts his order in and shoves a few legs aside to make room. It's only the second game of the season, and Seth keeps telling himself they can't win every game. (He'd just like to not lose every game, too.)
Eventually, he gives up on the internal pep talk. He's going to blame it on the altitude and go to bed early.
"Booo," Matty says.
Seth flips him off on his way out the door.
He takes off his shoes, detours around Ryan's pile of crap, and pauses at the side of his bed.
He should check on Roman.
Roman got checked hard in the second period, and he didn't come back for the rest of the game. Seth doesn't want to wake him up if he's sleeping, he just wants to make sure Roman doesn't need anything.
Roman's room is right next door to his and Ryan's. They'd been dicking around with the connecting doors that morning. (Seth still can't get over how much nicer the hotels are when you're in the NHL instead of the WHL.) His and Ryan's door is unlocked, and Roman's isn't even closed all the way. He pushes it the rest of the way open and freezes.
The curtains have all been closed, and the room is cool and dim. Roman's in bed, but he's not alone. Shea is sitting with his back against the headboard, and Roman is kneeling over him, his head bent to press his mouth against Shea's collarbone.
Seth makes a tiny, shocked noise, and Roman's head snaps up. There is something dark on his lips, licked away in a flash. Shea looks over a beat later, and his face is still soft, eyes heavy-lidded.
If Seth didn't know any better, maybe he would have thought they were just hooking up. But he looks at Roman, at his perfect, unnatural stillness, and he just knows.
His hand goes to his neck automatically and he flicks his crucifix out. Roman's eyes widen, and Seth is careful not to meet his gaze.
"Webs, can I talk to you for a sec?" Seth asks. His voice comes out mostly even, but it doesn't matter. Roman's got to be able to smell his fear, hear the hard kick of his heart.
He doesn't know what he's going to do. It's not like his mother's gun cabinet is in his room. He's not even sure there's anything made of real wood in there, nothing he can make a weapon out of, anyway. Roman's probably not going to drain Shea completely, but Seth can't just walk away.
"I know what he is," Shea says calmly.
Seth and Roman's eyes snap to Shea.
Shea meets Roman's eyes for a moment, then he looks at Seth. "I know he's a vampire," he says. "That's what you want to talk about, right?"
Seth nods dumbly.
"Okay," Shea says. He nudges Roman's hip, and Roman shifts his weight, lets Shea up. "Let's talk."
Seth takes a few steps back into his room, but he watches Roman over Shea's shoulder. Shea closes Seth's door behind him, and Seth finally looks at him.
Shea's shirt is halfway unbuttoned. He touches his collarbone and his fingertips come away with a few drops of blood. "Can I borrow a washcloth?" he asks.
Seth can handle this at least. He gets a washcloth from the bathroom, wets one corner down with warm water.
"Thanks," Shea says. He wipes away the smudges of blood on his skin, but the bite has already clotted. It looks like a hickey, a little bit of bruising, faint red toothmarks.
Seth realizes he's staring at Shea's bare chest and he yanks his eyes up. Shea's face is serious. That first shock of fear has passed, and now Seth just feels uncertain, off-balance.
"Roman got a concussion when Downie hit him," Shea says, and for a second, the anger that got him a double-minor for roughing is back on his face. "He can't feed while we're on the road, not without permission from the local vampires, so I let him take a little blood from me so he can heal faster."
"Oh," Seth says. "How, um, how long have you..."
"Have I known, or have I been letting him feed off me?"
"Yeah, both, I guess," Seth says.
"Since he was a rookie," Shea says, and, well, Seth knows how Shea is about rookies.
Shea's expression softens. "Hey, Roman's not going to hurt you. I wouldn't let him play for this team if I thought he was going to hurt anyone."
"Oh," Seth says again. He knows there are plenty of vampires that don't kill to feed, that they're not all bloodthirsty monsters, but. But.
"Are you gonna be okay with this?" Shea asks.
Seth takes a deep breath. "Yeah. For sure."
The thing is, he liked Roman.
Roman was great to him at training camp, joking with him, making him feel more at ease than some of the older guys. And even though it had to be obvious from space, he never gave Seth shit about Seth's man-crush on their captain. He made Seth feel like less of a rookie.
(It occurs to Seth later, lying in bed, that Roman can probably hear his heartbeat speed up around Shea, can smell how un-platonic that crush is. It makes his stomach twist up tight with a weird flustered embarrassment and he has to put his hands over his face and think about that time he tried to defend Crosby. Which is equally embarrassing, but in a more comfortable and familiar way.)
He kinda wishes he had someone to talk to about it.
"Hey, do you guys think there's anything weird about Roman?" he asks Ryan and Matty, when they're hanging out playing CoD.
They both give him a confused look.
"Like-- he's really unfairly good looking?" Ryan says.
No, like he wants to suck your blood, Seth thinks, and sighs at himself. "No, I don't know, nothing."
"Maybe it's because he's Swedish," Ryan says.
"He's Swiss, dumbass," Matty says.
"Really? Huh," Ryan says. Matty opens his mouth, and Ryan adds, "I know they're different, asshole."
Matty gives an elaborate shrug that strongly implies he doesn't believe that, and the conversation turns into a wrestling match on the living room floor. Seth pulls his feet up out of the way and lets it go.
He could talk to his mom, he supposes. His mom quit hunting when she got pregnant, although she's always kept up her target practice, along with yoga and some pretty aggressive Pilates classes. (His dad kept it up longer; he retired from hunting about the same time he retired from basketball.)
It's just -- okay, he's pretty sure the story about Great-Aunt Camille staking her son's girlfriend when she got turned is just a family legend, but it's not something he wants to find out the hard way. It's still Roman after all. Shea trusts him, and the team needs him, and when it comes right down to it, Seth doesn't really want to see him turned into a pile of ash and dust.
Roman is waiting by his car when he gets out of practice. It's still light out, and Roman doesn't look completely comfortable.
"What?" Seth says.
Roman takes his sunglasses out. "Can we talk?" he asks. "It doesn't have to be right now. Lunch or something. I just -- I want to make this better again."
Seth looks at him. He can't avoid Roman for the rest of their careers. "Fine."
They go to brunch on their next off day, partly because it will be daylight, and partly because brunch is awesome.
Roman orders coffee, and Seth orders something called a Southwest scramble and whole-grain waffles.
Seth watches Roman fiddle with his coffee. "You eat around us. Real food, I mean. And you can be out in sunlight, so you've got to be pretty young."
Roman blinks. "Yes. I can't eat a lot of solid food, and sunshine makes me feel tired and sick, but I've got a few more years before it is unbearable."
Seth knows what the progression is. Direct sunlight will become painful, then cause blisters and burns, and eventually spontaneous combustion. But in exchange, Roman will get stronger, more powerful. Harder to kill.
"How many more years?" Seth asks.
"Ten or fifteen, if I'm lucky."
Roman's watching him, and Seth avoids his eyes. "So what did you want to talk about?"
"I wanted to say I'm still the person you thought I was. I'm not going to hurt you, or try to feed on you. And if there's anything you want to know, or anything I can say to make you believe me, to make us friends again, you can ask."
Seth straightens his silverware, thinks about it. "Why-- how did you become a vampire?"
"When I was twenty, I was in a car accident. I was hurt, dying, and my father knew a woman. A vampire. He begged her to save me, and she did. She made me like her."
Roman's mouth turns down at the corners. "I don't know. She has her own reasons for everything, and I was always a little too scared to ask."
Seth's food comes, and they don't talk while he puts hot sauce on his eggs and syrup on his waffles. He digs in, and for a moment all he cares about is how good the food tastes. He's going to have to thank Mike for that recommendation.
"Who else knows?" Seth asks, halfway through his eggs.
"On the team? Only Shea."
Seth frowns, and Roman shrugs.
"I can fake a heartbeat and breath sounds for a while, enough to keep the trainers happy, anyway."
"But you can't pass a concussion test."
Roman makes a face. "Yeah, I'm still working on that. I think it's the reflex part. I'm slowing it down, but I'm still not getting back to my baseline."
It seems like a lot of work, pretending so hard to be normal, human. "So why are you doing this?" Seth asks.
Roman smiles, wide and bright and genuine. "Because it's hockey," he says.
And, well, Seth understands that completely.
Once he knows, he finds himself watching Roman when they're out, when he interacts with strangers. Trying to see what they're seeing. Or maybe more like what they're not seeing.
"Jesus, you guys are an embarrassment to professional athletes everywhere," Dicky says.
Seth flips him off, but he kind of can't argue. The team is out celebrating an overtime win against the Jets at home. Seth's on the dance floor with Matty, Ryan, Filip, and Gaby, and no one is exactly covering themselves with glory when it comes their moves.
No one except Roman.
Roman's dancing with a woman in a silver halter top and tight jeans. She's white, with long, dark hair, and in her heels, she's almost as tall as Roman is. Roman's smiling, giving her a lot of eye contact, but she's smiling back, her face animated and bright, not glazed over like he's hypnotizing her. Roman touches the bare skin at her waist and she arches her back, pressing closer.
Seth looks away, tries to pay attention to whatever Filip is saying in their defense. He keeps glancing back, though, like he can't quite help himself. It's less dancing and more grinding, now, Roman leaning in to whisper in her ear.
When Seth looks again, they're gone. He suddenly doesn't feel like dancing anymore.
He goes to sit with the older guys. They'll let him have a beer from their pitcher anyway.
"Everything okay?" Shea asks.
Seth dredges up a smile. "Yeah, totally."
Shea grins back and scrubs his hand over Seth's hair. Seth ducks his head and tries not to lean into the touch.
Roman comes back before Seth is done with his beer. He slides into the booth across from Seth. He looks like he just got his brains fucked out, smug and satisfied, eyes heavy, hair mussed. There's a smudge of lipstick on the corner of his mouth, too pink to be blood.
Seth looks back at the crowd. He doesn't realize he's holding his breath until he sees the woman in the silver halter top. She's with her friends, and she looks just as pleased as Roman does, although she's tidied up her lipstick. Seth exhales, a relieved rush, and turns back to the table.
Roman's watching him, that lazy smugness gone, his face still.
"Feeling better?" Shea asks dryly.
Roman looks away from Seth to flash Shea a grin, revealing canine teeth that are still just a tiny bit too long. "Oh, yes."
Once he knows, Seth finds himself watching Shea and Roman together more, too.
He keeps thinking about Shea's face when he walked in on them, about that girl's smile after Roman fed on her. He's always vaguely assumed getting bitten was painful and scary, or maybe just a blank spot in your memory, if the vampire caught you with their eyes. But that's not what it looked like for Shea, or that girl.
Seth could ask Shea what it's like, but that's a whole other level of embarrassing that he does not want to get into with his captain.
Roman gets in Shea's personal space sometimes in the locker room or out on the town, leans into Shea's side or throws his arm around Shea's shoulders, and Shea allows it. Shea gives Roman the same casual physical affection he gives all his teammates in practice. Even if getting bitten is like sex, Shea doesn't act like they're fucking, and he doesn't seem to mind Roman feeding on other people, either.
Seth should just let it go, because it's none of his business. But it's hard to look away. Hard to stop wondering.
Roman passes the concussion protocol in time to come with them on their next road trip.
It's a long one, and it starts out well, five points in three games. Then they lose three in a row, and they're still not done.
At least they scored a goal in this last one.
"Jones!" Trotz snaps, and Seth jumps. He's been staring blankly at the grubby carpet in the visitors' dressing room while the rest of the team packed up around him.
"Go find Josi and Weber and tell them to get their asses out to the bus or we're leaving them on Long Island."
Seth honestly has no idea where Shea and Roman would wander off to in the Coliseum. He takes a random left and realizes he's going to get lost himself if he isn't careful.
"Roman!" he yells. "C'mon, we're leaving!"
There's no reply, although a passing staffer gives him a weird look.
He takes another left, and finds them, standing close together in a deserted section of hallway. Shea's holding Roman's elbow, frowning down at his forearm.
"It will heal by itself," Roman says.
Shea turns his wrist gently, and Seth sees the bruise on Roman's wrist, dark and ugly. It looks like something left by a nasty slash, but it should have disappeared by now.
"Hey, guys," Seth says.
They both look up quickly.
Shea lets go of Roman, and Roman pulls his wrist close to his chest. He looks tired, worn down.
"Didn't you hear me yelling for you?" Seth asks.
Roman blinks. "No."
Shea's frown gets deeper and he gives Roman a pointed look. Roman doesn't say anything.
"Coach says we need to go," Seth says cautiously into that loaded silence. "So..."
"Let me help," Shea says to Roman.
"You helped a couple days ago. You're playing as many minutes as I am, and I know your shoulder is bothering you. I can practically smell the inflammation. I won't -- It's only three more days," Roman says, and Seth remembers what Shea said, about how Roman doesn't feed on strangers on road trips.
They've been on the road for almost two weeks.
"Do you need to feed?" Seth asks.
"Yes," Shea says.
"No," Roman says at the same time, glaring at Shea.
Seth doesn't know why he does it, except that Roman looks so tired and hurt, except for that little whisper of curiosity in the back of his head.
"I could--" he says, and both Shea and Roman look at him sharply. Seth swallows and tries to keep his voice steady. "You could feed on me."
Roman must be worse off than Seth thought, because he hesitates for a long moment before he says, "It's only three more days."
"Three days and a game against Pittsburgh," Seth says.
"Let's talk about it when we get back to the hotel," Shea says.
Seth nods. He can't tell if that flutter in his stomach is relief or disappointment.
Trotz has not left them behind. Third loss in a row, no one's talking much on the bus. Seth watches the streetlights go by and tries not to fidget.
He catches Shea and Roman at the elevators. "Should I come to your room or...?"
"You don't have to," Shea says.
"I know," Seth says.
Shea studies Seth's face for a moment. "You can change first," he says finally.
"Okay," Seth says.
The elevator dings and everyone crowds in. Seth can see Roman's reflection in the polished shine of the doors. Roman closes his eyes and his mouth opens, like he's breathing in their scent.
Seth gets off on his floor, trailing after Ryan. Seth changes while Ryan's in the bathroom, putting on sweats and a t-shirt.
"I'm gonna hang out with Roman," he calls.
"Okay," Ryan yells back.
Seth takes a deep breath, grabs his room key, and lets himself out.
He passes Nystrom in the hallway, ice bucket in hand. Nystrom gives him an absent wave. He can hear muffled laughter from one room as he goes by, the soundtrack of an action movie from another. It's so utterly normal it makes his shoulders tighten up. He knocks on Roman's door, and Shea opens it.
Shea's still wearing his suit pants, but he's taken off his jacket and tie, rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt. He steps aside to let Seth in and Seth sees he's taken his shoes off, too, like a good Canadian boy.
Roman's changed into sweats and a t-shirt, too, and the bruise is still visible on his wrist.
"You don't have to," Roman says.
Seth rolls his eyes. He's made his decision, and it would be great if they would stop questioning it and just -- get on with it. "I want to. The way this trip is going, we can't afford to lose anymore d-men."
Roman smiles, but it fades quickly. "Do you -- Webs could stay."
Seth looks over at Shea, and Shea nods, calm and serious. It makes a little of that tight, anxious tension in his spine ease up."Yeah, um, yeah, that would be good."
No one moves for a long moment, then Seth takes a deep breath and sits down on the edge of Shea's bed. Roman comes to stand in front of him, close enough that Seth has to tip his head back to see his face. Roman lifts a hand, and Seth feels his shoulders stiffen.
Shea huffs. "Here, like this," he says. He climbs onto the bed and sits with his back against the headboard. He tugs Seth back, and Seth goes, settling gingerly against Shea's side, Shea's arm draped over his shoulders.
"It's okay," Shea says. "I won't let him hurt you."
Seth snorts and gives Shea a sidelong glance. "He's going to bite me."
Shea smiles, something rueful and embarrassed in it, and glances at Roman. "Yeah, but — trust me, it doesn't hurt."
Roman kneels next to the bed. He takes Seth's hand, cradles his wrist in one palm. When he meets Seth's gaze, his eyes are dark and drowning.
"Here," Roman says quietly. He strokes his fingertips over the inside of Seth's wrist, and Seth shivers. "Is this okay?"
Seth nods. His heart is beating faster now.
Roman lifts Seth's wrist to his mouth. Seth is braced for the bite, but Roman only brushes his lips over his skin, soft and cool.
"It's going to be all right," he says. "You trust Webs, right?"
"I trust you," Seth says, without really thinking about it, and Roman's face goes still for a heartbeat.
Then Roman bites him. There's a split second of pain, bright and sharp, but it's washed away by a rush of sensation. It's like...it's like that first sip of cold water when you're thirsty, like lying down between clean sheets when you're exhausted, like stepping outside and feeling the sunshine warm on your skin. It's that first hit of physical bliss, but more intense, more sustained.
All of the nervous tension in his muscles dissolves, and he goes completely boneless against Shea. Shea laughs softly. Seth can feel the rumble of it against his ribs.
"Yeah?" Shea asks.
Seth nods, dazed. Shea wraps his hand around Seth's other wrist, pressing his fingertips against the pulse point under his thumb.
Roman's eyes closed at that first spill of blood, but now he blinks them open, looking up at Seth. His throat works, swallowing, and Seth gets another wave of that bliss. He's hard, he realizes. He's wearing sweats, and he knows it has to be obvious to Shea and Roman. His face heats, and he has the urge to curl in on himself like he can hide it.
Shea's arm tightens around his shoulder. "Hey, shhh, you're okay, it's fine."
Seth closes his eyes, tries not to think about it, but it feels like there's a direct line between his dick and Roman's mouth on his wrist, that hot, wet suction.
Shea strokes his thumb over Seth's skin, where the sleeve of his t-shirt has ridden up, and Seth can't help the tiny, breathy noises that slip out of his mouth.
"Roman," Shea says, and Seth comes. Everything goes fuzzy, distant, and there's a roaring in his ears. He doesn't know if it's the orgasm or the blood loss.
Roman lifts his head. He wraps a washcloth over Seth's wrist and folds Seth's arm at the elbow. Shea takes over the grip on his wrist, holding his hand up against his chest.
Seth keeps his eyes closed, embarrassment coiling sickly in his gut.
He can feel Roman stand up, move away from the bed.
"It's okay," Shea says. "The same thing happened to me the first time."
Seth's stomach does something weird at that mental image.
"It's intense," Shea adds, and Seth lets out a shaky little laugh, because yeah, no shit.
He's waiting for Shea to get up, move away, but Shea doesn't go anywhere.
Roman comes back with a thing of coconut water and a bag of trail mix from the minibar.
"How's the wrist?" Shea asks, while Seth drinks.
Roman flexes his wrist in a full circle. The bruise is gone. "Good as new," he says. He catches Seth's eye. "Thank you."
Seth swallows. He knows Roman can hear the stutter in his heartbeat when he says, "Anytime."
Seth thinks something should change after that, but he's not sure what.
(Other than adding a ton of new fantasy material to his jerk off sessions, anyway.)
The one thing that does seem to change is that now Roman cockblocks him sometimes when they're out with the team.
He'll come up behind Seth and slide his arms around Seth's waist when Seth is dancing with a girl, or slide in between Seth and someone trying to buy him a drink at the bar. The girl or the guy will look annoyed or intimidated, and then disappear in the crowd.
Seth doesn't think that letting Roman feed on him once gives Roman the right to get all possessive, not when Roman's got Shea.
He digs his elbow into Roman's ribs the next time Roman tries it. "Quit it, asshole," he mutters.
Roman gives him an injured look. "What?"
"You know what," Seth says, but it's too late, the girl who was flirting with him is already gone.
Roman drops his arm from around Seth's shoulder and grins at him. "Okay, okay, sorry. Look, I'll pick you out a better one."
Roman hooks a finger in Seth's belt loop and drags him over to a couple of girls leaning on the end of the bar.
Seth doesn't end up going home with either of them, but he does make out with both of them on the dance floor, so he'll cut Roman a little slack.
Roman doesn't quit it though.
"I can pick up my own ladies," Seth says to Shea, leaning into his shoulder. The guys have been slipping him beers all night, which is maybe why this seems like a good conversation to have now. "And dudes."
"I'm sure," Shea says. He's watching Roman scan the crowd, strangely tense. "Just -- maybe let him be your wingman for a while, okay?"
"Hmmph," Seth says. He lifts his head. "Um, Shea, can I--"
"Yeah, yeah, you can crash at my place," Shea says, amused and indulgent.
"Thanks, man," Seth says, and puts his head back down on Shea's shoulder.
Seth makes his way up to the bar to order a Coke in peace.
Someone slips in next to him. "Buy you a drink?"
Seth glances over. He's cute enough, for a white boy, but there's something about his eyes that pings Seth wrong.
"No, thanks," he says.
The bartender puts his Coke down in front of him. "What's the name?"
"Weber," Seth says. "Thanks." He picks up the glass and the guy next to him reaches out like he's going to brush Seth's hand.
Seth twists away instinctively, and the guy stiffens, straightening up. Seth wants to walk away, but even more than that, he suddenly doesn't want to turn his back on him.
Then Roman is slinging an arm around his shoulders. "Everything okay?" he asks. He's smiling, but it's thin and sharp.
The other guy, who Seth is now like ninety-five percent sure is another vampire, glares at Roman. Roman stares back flatly. The other guy snarls and slips away into the crowd.
"Really, are you okay?" Roman asks.
"Yeah, that was just -- weird," Seth says.
Roman is frowning. He herds Seth back to the table, nudges him into the booth between Shea and him. Shea gives Roman a questioning look, but Roman just shakes his head. He doesn't let Seth out of his sight for the rest of the night.
Normally that would bug Seth, but he's willing to let it go this one time.
Later, he wonders if maybe it wasn't just that one time.
When Seth's mom hosts her book club at their house, Seth hangs out with Shea.
"You could stay," his mom says innocently. "I'm sure Evelyn and Sandra would love to hear how your season is going."
"Mo-oom," Seth says, making a face.
She laughs. "Go have your captain bonding time. I'll give the ladies the complete rundown."
He stops at the grocery store first, to pick up some salad stuff and a couple of rotisserie chickens. There's a tiny blonde girl trying to reach some olives on a tall shelf on his way to the produce aisle.
"Here, let me," Seth says, and grabs it for her.
"Thanks," she says, smiling brightly, her teeth white against her tanned skin and pink lipstick.
"No problem," Seth says. He thinks briefly about staying to flirt, but he's already running late.
He sees her again, though, in the parking lot, struggling to get her keys out without dropping her groceries.
"Hi," he says. He hangs back a little so he doesn't startle her. "Can I help?"
She smiles. "Please."
He holds her groceries while she gets her keys out and opens the trunk.
"Thanks," she says again, once the groceries are stowed. "I'm Marian."
She holds her hand out.
"Seth," he says, taking her hand and meeting her eyes before he recognizes his mistake. He has a split second to think that his aunties would be so pissed at him, and then everything goes dark.
It's Roman's voice. Seth blinks. He's still standing in the parking lot of the grocery store. He's freezing cold, his hands and feet stiff.
Roman cups his face between his palms. "Hey," he says.
"Hey," Seth croaks.
"She rolled him good," Roman says, not looking away from Seth's face.
"Fuck," Shea says. Seth didn't know he was there, too.
Roman's frown deepens, and he swipes his thumb over the pulse point on Seth's throat. Seth sees a flash of color on Roman's thumb, and brings his own hand up to scrub at his skin. He comes away with traces of bright pink lipstick.
He feels sick.
"Did she bite him?" Shea asks tightly.
Roman shakes his head. "Not there."
"Come on," Shea says. "Let's get out of here."
Roman takes Seth's hand and tugs him towards Shea's car. Seth follows. He feels slow and clumsy and dazed.
The heat in the car feels good, but there's still a cold, hard lump in the pit of his stomach that it can't touch.
When they get to Shea's house, Roman takes Seth's coat off. Shea's hovering off to the side anxiously.
Roman leans in, pressing his face against Seth's throat. He inhales deeply. He's still frowning faintly when he leans back. He picks up Seth's arm and pushes his sleeve up, checking the inside of one elbow, then the other.
Seth feels like he's finally waking up. "What are you doing?"
"Does anything hurt?" Roman asks. "Does -- do you feel anything like when I bit you?"
"No," Seth says.
"Take your shirt off," Roman says.
"Uh, no," Seth says. "I'm fine."
He looks over at Shea. Shea makes a face. "You should check. You can do it in the bathroom by yourself, if you want, though."
"I don't think she had time to undress me and bite me in the parking lot," Seth says.
Shea pulls Seth's phone out of his coat pocket and hands it over.
Seth's stomach lurches again when he sees the time. He's missing close to two hours.
"Tell your mom you're staying over here tonight," Shea says. "Then go check for bite marks."
Seth obeys numbly.
He strips down completely in Shea's bathroom. He checks his wrists and his elbows and the inside of his thighs. He uses Shea's shaving mirror to check his back. There's nothing, only the last traces of lipstick on his throat. He wets a washcloth and wipes it away, scrubs at his throat until his skin is sore.
He comes back downstairs, but he stops when he hears Shea's voice. "Why are they doing this to him? Why aren't they trying all this shit with me?"
"Because everyone knows you're mine," Roman snaps.
Seth can hear Shea's sharp inhale from the stairs.
"So claim him, too," Shea says after a minute. "Do whatever you did to me that keeps them off my back."
Roman doesn't say anything. Seth can't even identify the weird rush of emotions that thought sets off. He starts moving again.
Roman looks up when Seth comes into the kitchen. "It'll be okay. We just -- we just need to be more careful for a while."
Seth dreams about her that night, dreams that she's standing in Shea's front yard, calling his name. The wind whips the snow around her, but doesn't touch her golden hair, and her pale, delicate feet don't break the surface of the snowdrift where she stands.
Her voice is cold and clear and sinks like a fish hook into his brain. Seth, Seth.
Seth jerks awake. He's not in bed. He's standing at the head of the stairs. Roman lets go of his shoulder.
"What's going on?" Shea asks.
"She's calling him," Roman says. He looks grim, unhappy.
"Fuck," Shea says.
"She's -- I dreamed she was outside," Seth says.
Roman looks towards the front door, his eyes unfocusing. After a minute he blinks and shakes his head. "She's not there." He adds, almost reluctantly, "Not anymore."
Seth is shivering now. If he'd been home, if Roman and Shea hadn't woken up--
Shea puts his arm around Seth's shoulder, tugs him in against his side. "What are we going to do about this?"
Roman shakes his head. "She didn't bite him, so it won't last past the morning," he says. "But he should sleep with us tonight."
Seth bites his lip against a tiny, hysterical giggle. Roman doesn't mean it like that, and neither of them need to know how much Seth's thought about it like that.
Shea gives Roman a flat look, like he wants Roman to give him another answer. "Okay," he says, when Roman doesn't say anything else.
Shea tugs Seth towards the master bedroom. Seth climbs under the covers and lies on his back, feeling awkward. Shea slides in next to him, but Roman goes to windows, checking the front yard again. He seems restless, unsettled.
Seth is exhausted, but he's afraid to close his eyes, afraid of where he'll wake up.
Shea huffs and rolls over onto his side, throwing his arm across Seth's waist, hooking his ankle over Seth's.
"Roman," Shea says.
Roman is still for a moment, watching them, then he gets into bed on Seth's other side. His shoulder and thigh press against Seth's, cool and solid.
"Better?" Shea murmurs.
Seth nods, his eyes slipping shut. It's reassuring, the weight of their bodies. He's not going anywhere. They won't let him.
Seth doesn't really know a lot about vampire etiquette or whatever, but he figures it can't possibly be good when Roman calls him at four in the morning to say, "Can you come pick me up?"
His voice sounds awful, hoarse and shaky. Seth scrubs at his eyes in the dark, makes an inarticulate questioning noise.
"Shea's not answering," Roman says, like an explanation.
"Yeah," Seth says. He clears his throat. "Yeah, sure, no problem. Where are you?"
Roman gives him the cross streets, downtown somewhere. "Okay, I'll be there soon," Seth says.
"Thanks," Roman says softly.
When he hangs up, he sees that Roman was calling from a number he doesn't recognize. It adds to the anxious feeling in his gut.
Seth pulls a pair of jeans and t-shirt on in the dark, shoves his wallet and cell phone into his pocket. He closes his bedroom door carefully behind him and tip-toes past him mom's room and down the stairs.
He grabs the keys off the hook, but stops with his hand on the door to the garage. He goes back to the kitchen to leave a note on the whiteboard on the fridge. Mom, borrowed the car to pick up a friend. Everything's fine, I'll be home soon. xo, S.
He doesn't see Roman at first when he pulls up to the intersection. The streets are empty, one of the street lights shot out and the next one over flickering on and off. There's a payphone on the corner, and Seth wonders if it would ring if he called the last number on his phone. Before he can try it, he sees movement in the shadows of a doorway. Seth looks closer. Roman's sitting on the stoop, knees drawn up to his chest, arms around his shins. There's way too much skin visible.
Seth throws the car into park and scrambles out. Nashville isn't Denver, but there's still a blanket in the back.
Roman looks at him, but he doesn't get up. For the first time Seth's known him, he looks like what he is. His face is pale, his eyes bruised and sunken. He licks his lips and Seth can see the flash of fangs.
Seth tosses the blanket over his shoulders. He's pretty sure Roman's completely naked. Roman catches the edges, tugs it close around him. His wrists are raw, like he's been tied up.
"Are you okay?" Seth says. "I mean, can you stand up?"
Roman nods. He pushes to his feet. He stumbles and Seth throws an arm around his waist, steadying him.
Roman slumps into him. He presses his face against the side of Seth's throat. He inhales deeply, and Seth can feel the brush of his cool lips against his skin.
Seth freezes, his heart suddenly beating like crazy in his chest.
Roman lifts his head. "Sorry," he rasps.
"It's okay," Seth says. "Um. C'mon."
He helps Roman to the car, goes around to get back in the driver's seat. Roman is turned away from him, leaning his head against the window.
"We're going to Shea's house," Seth says. He feels better as soon as he says it. "I've got his spare keys."
Roman doesn't say anything. Seth drives.
Roman is leaning on him pretty heavily by the time Seth gets them through Shea's front door. He punches in the alarm code; Shea hasn't changed it since Seth moved out.
"Shea!" Seth yells up the stairs, on his way to the living room. There's a clatter of toenails on tile as Dug comes running down instead. He skids to a halt when he sees Roman, comes up cautiously to nose at his leg and whine in the back of his throat. "Shea!" Seth yells again.
Roman collapses onto the couch. The blanket slips, and Seth can see long lines of parallel scratches on Roman's chest, a bite mark on his chest over his heart, all still raw and bloody. He knows it's bad that they haven't healed yet. Dug crowds up against Seth's legs and whines again.
"Seth, what the fuck," Shea says sleepily from the doorway, and Seth feels a rush of relief.
Shea sees Roman on the sofa then, and his eyes widen. "What the fuck?" he says again, his voice suddenly hard, angry.
He crosses the room to cup Roman's jaw in his hand, lift his head. "Shit, Roman. Was it Nepenthe?"
"Yeah," Roman says softly.
"What's going on?" Seth finally asks.
Shea raises his eyebrows at Roman. Roman closes his eyes.
"Vampires are weirdly territorial," Shea says. "Roman didn't kiss the right asses when he moved here, so he's on the shit list of the vampire in charge."
Seth doesn't think that's everything, but he's pretty sure it's all he's getting. "Oh."
Shea looks over at him. "Go get the juice and cookies," he says. "And the bandages. And take Dug with you."
Seth jumps to do it. He'd halfway been expecting that Shea would send him home, like he was some dumb kid.
Dug follows when Seth calls him, giving Roman one last concerned look. Seth shuts him in Shea's bedroom. There's sterile gauze and tape in the upstairs medicine cabinet, oatmeal-raisin cookies in the kitchen cabinet, and orange juice in the fridge.
When Seth comes back to the living room, Shea is on the couch next to Roman. "You don't have a choice," Shea's saying. "You're not going to heal without it."
Roman's mouth twists. "No," he says. "I can't, I won't be able to--"
Shea glances up at Seth. "Seth is here. He'll stop you if you go too far."
Seth's stomach does something weird at that, but he nods.
Shea pulls his t-shirt off. Seth looks away quickly from the smooth expanse of Shea's skin. Roman is watching Shea like he's hypnotized. Shea leans forward and pulls open a drawer in the coffee table. He digs around in it for a second and comes up with a pocket knife.
"Shea," Roman says softly.
"Are you going to let it go to waste?" Shea asks. He presses the tip of the knife against the crook of his elbow. Blood wells up, spilling down his inner arm.
Roman makes a low, hurt noise and half-lunges, half-falls forward to press his mouth against the cut.
Shea's breath comes out in a rush. His eyes slip shut, his face going soft, and oh, god, Seth didn't think this all the way through, because he remembers how that feels.
Shea eases back, so he's lying on the couch. Roman follows, stretching out on top of him, his mouth still pressed to the bend of Shea's elbow.
It looks like sex. Shea's blissed out face, Roman's naked body draped over him, the slick, wet sounds of Roman's mouth on Shea's skin. Heat washes over Seth's skin, only partly embarrassment.
He doesn't know what to do. He tries to remember how long it takes to give blood -- Roman probably shouldn't take much more than that, right? He sits down on the edge of the coffee table, reaches out carefully to press two fingers against Shea's throat.
Shea's pulse is fast but strong. Shea rolls his head to the side and opens his eyes. He smiles at Seth, slow and dazed.
Seth swallows. He takes his hand away from Shea's throat, but he can't quite stop himself from stroking Shea's hair back off his forehead. "You doing okay?" he asks.
"Yeah," Shea says. He exhales, his eyes fluttering shut again. He rocks his hips up against Roman. "It's just, it's--"
"Yeah," Seth says gruffly.
Shea gives him another quick smile, but it slips away, his lips parting as he pants for breath. "Fuck, fuck--"
Roman makes a pleased noise in the back of his throat. His eyes are closed, his lips and Shea's skin smeared with blood as he drinks.
Seth takes Shea's pulse again. Shea tips his head back, giving him his throat.
Shea moans and it sends a bolt of heat through Seth. Shea's hips jerk up and he goes rigid, his mouth falling open around a low, ragged curse. Then he goes completely boneless under Roman.
Seth's heart is beating fast now, too, and he's hard in his jeans. He makes himself look away from Shea's face, shame and longing and heat twisting together in his gut.
"Roman," Seth says, and it comes out shaky and too quiet. He tries again. "Roman, I think Shea needs you to stop."
Roman blinks his eyes open, but he doesn't move away from Shea.
"Roman," Seth says again, desperation making it sharp and angry.
Roman does lift his head at that. Seth opens one of the gauze packets with shaking hands, presses it to the crook of Shea's elbow.
Roman watches him, his eyes dark, hungry. Seth looks at him, trying to see the Roman he knows. "You can feed off of me if you still need to, but -- I think Shea's done."
Roman pushes back off of Shea to sit at the end of the couch. Seth yanks his eyes away from the wet spot on Shea's sweats, focuses on Roman instead.
The scratches on Roman's chest have faded, but the bitemark is still unhealed. There are more bites on his inner thighs, too.
"Fuck, Roman," Seth says.
Roman holds out his hand and Seth takes it, lets Roman tug him onto the sofa so he's straddling Roman's thighs.
Roman's mouth and chin are still smeared with Shea's blood. Seth licks his lips, automatic, nervous. Roman is still holding his hand, and he pulls Seth in closer. Seth sways, off-balance, and braces his other hand on the back of the couch.
Roman leans up and sinks his fangs into Seth's throat.
It hits him like bolt of lightning, that rush of pleasure that blanks everything else out. It's more intense this time, a drowning tide of heat and want. Roman sucks at his throat and Seth closes his eyes, feeling dizzy, almost drugged. He is desperately hard.
In the middle of all that heat, there's suddenly a point of icy coldness in the hollow of his throat. Roman jerks back, and Seth drags his eyes open. His t-shirt is glowing. No, his crucifix. Roman blinks and shakes his head, and the hard, predatory glint in his eyes fades. The light of Seth's cross dies down as Roman comes back to himself.
"You okay?" Shea asks, voice rough. He's sitting up now, frowning at both of them.
The blaze of sensation under his skin is bearable now, less consuming, but Seth is still so hard it hurts. He can't help the tiny pleading noise he makes.
Shea exhales. "No more biting," he says, and waits until Roman nods before he leans back.
Roman leans up and kisses the bitemark on Seth's neck. He licks the blood away gently. Something sweet and warm slides through Seth's veins. Roman palms Seth's cock through his jeans, and that's all it takes before Seth is coming, a long, slow wave crashing over him.
His muscles can't hold him anymore and he sways forward to rest his forehead on Roman's shoulder. Shea strokes a hand down his back. It feels good, steadying, and Seth closes his eyes, just for a second.
He wakes up in Shea's bed again.
Shea is sprawled out next to him, snoring quietly, his ankle hooked over Seth's. There's a bottle of water on the nightstand, and Seth would really like to drink it. He frowns at it.
Then Roman appears in his line of sight. He probably heard Seth's breathing change. He hands Seth the bottle. It's lukewarm, but Seth doesn't care.
"You guys are so stupid," Roman says.
"You called me," Seth reminds him. "Us."
Roman looks away, something like shame on his face. "You should have said no."
"You're our--" Seth stumbles, not sure of the right word, not sure what Shea would think is the right word. "--Our teammate. You're my friend. I want to help."
Roman puts his fingertip against the sore spot on Seth's throat. "You shouldn't."
Seth is tired enough not to freak out for once, and his heartbeat doesn't change. He watches Roman steadily, lets him hear. "Tough," he says.
The corner of Roman's mouth twitches -- despite himself, Seth thinks -- but all he says is, "Go back to sleep, we can talk about it later."
Seth sleeps for a few more hours. He drifts up to consciousness slowly. He can smell fresh coffee and Shea's laundry detergent, hear Shea breathing deep and steady behind him, his arm draped over Seth's waist.
Shea's breathing changes and he stiffens, pulling away from Seth. The mattress dips as he gets out of bed, and Seth blinks the rest of the way awake.
He sits up.
"Clean towels in the guest room if you want a shower," Shea says, standing in the doorway.
"Thanks," Seth says.
Shea hesitates, then says, "I don't think I said it last night, but you did good. Being there for Roman, bringing him here -- you handled it all really well."
Seth clears his throat. "Thanks," he says. He looks down, smooths the comforter out over his knee. "That's not what Roman said."
"Yeah, well, he should have." Shea sighs. "He's got a lot of shit going on and he doesn't want to drag you, us, into it."
Seth touches the bite on his neck, remembers the sound of Marian's voice in his head. "Too late."
He tries to smile when he says it, but Shea's face is serious, almost grim.
"Yeah, it is."
Seth tries to sneak in quietly, but his mom is waiting in the kitchen.
She gives him an extremely unimpressed look.
"Um," he says. "Sorry I went out without telling you, but it was an emergency, I had to help a friend out."
"Was this friend a girl?"
His mom looks pointedly at his neck, and Seth slaps a hand over the bite. "No!"
Her expression softens and she reaches out to touch his arm gently. "Is everything okay, sweetheart?"
Seth swallows. "Yeah. Yeah, totally."
She squeezes his arm. "You know you can talk to me if you or one of your friends needs help."
"Good," she says and steps back. "You're going to be late for practice if you don't get a move on."
Seth looks at the clock on the stove. "Oh, shh-- ooot."
He's almost out the door when she says, "You're still wearing your crucifix, aren't you?"
His heartbeat jumps, a strange little jolt of fear. "Yeah, definitely," he says over his shoulder and keeps going.
"Wow," Ryan says at practice. He reaches out and tugs at Seth's collar, trying to get a better look at his neck. "Is that a hickey or were you attacked by a vacuum cleaner?"
Seth bats his hand away. "No, fuck off," he says. He can feel his face going hot.
"Are you blushing?" Ryan says.
"Hold still," Matty says, aiming his phone at them. "We have to show to Fil."
"He's in Milwaukee, what does he care about my neck?" Seth asks.
"Oh, he will care," Matty says, grinning down at the screen. Seth lunges for Matty's phone, and there's a little bit of scuffling, all of them laughing now, and Ryan ends up with the phone.
"Ha!" Ryan says, and after a beat, Seth's phone buzzes with an incoming group text. At least Ryan didn't instagram it.
Seth gives up the fight and goes back to changing. He doesn't let himself look at Shea and Roman at all until they're all on the ice.
A week later, Seth's trailing behind Shea after the game, trying to loosen his tie and pull on his coat at the same time.
Shea stops dead when they get to the parking garage, and Seth bumps into him.
"What--" he starts, and then stops.
Roman is talking to her.
She looks tiny standing next to him, harmless, her blonde hair perfectly styled, her bright pink trench coat sharply pressed. But Roman's face is like stone, his shoulders rigid.
They both turn their heads to look at Seth and Shea.
She looks back at Roman, lifts one delicate eyebrow.
Roman stares back, face blank.
And then -- Seth's not exactly sure what happens then. One second she's standing ten feet away in front of Roman, and the next, Seth is on his knees in front of her, her hand hard as iron around his throat. His knees ache with how hard he hit the ground, and he hadn't even seen her move.
Shea curses and takes a step forward, and she says, "Don't."
"Shea," Roman says in the same moment.
Shea glances at Roman, but he stops.
Seth can feel his pulse beating fast against her fingertips. He keeps his gaze fixed on the hollow of her throat, not meeting her eyes.
"I'm not going to hurt him," she says. She turns towards Roman, her hand still on Seth's throat. "I'm just making a point. You need to pick a side, Roman."
"I don't care about your sides," Roman says.
Seth takes a careful breath and starts reaching for the little silver-edged switchblade he started carrying after the first night he met her.
She clicks her tongue. "But our sides care about you. No one can stay neutral for what's coming. You have to be prepared. If you don't claim him, someone else will."
Seth flicks the blade open and slams it into her inner thigh in one move. He makes sure he twists the knife when he pulls it out.
She jerks back with a snarl.
Roman moves then, a blur, putting himself between her and Seth.
"I can take care of myself," Seth says. Okay, that's kind of an overstatement, he doesn't really have a move after this.
She laughs, blood trickling down her bare leg. "Child, I don't care about you. Roman just needs to claim someone else. A single human companion is not going to be enough to get him through this." She studies Roman's face. "I'll make it easy for you. If you don't claim him, I will."
"You don't want him," Roman says.
"Not especially, although I admit, I'm more interested after that little trick. Regardless, I would take him just to spite you. And you know it."
Roman's hands clench into fists.
She smiles, cool and self-satisfied, and steps around Seth to head for the exit. The sharp snap of her heels echoes in the garage and she leaves a trail of blood where she walks.
"Holy shit," Seth says, slumping back on his heels. His heartbeat kicks up and he feels a dizzying rush of relief.
"No kidding," Shea says. He drops to one knee next to Seth, steadies him when he sways. "Are you okay?"
Seth coughs. His throat feels bruised, but it's still intact. "Yeah, I think so."
They both look up at Roman, who looks down at them with a helpless, angry frown.
"Roman--" Shea says, and Roman shakes his head.
"At home," Roman says. His voice is clipped and tight, but he's gentle when he helps Seth to his feet.
At Shea's house, Seth sinks into the couch and texts his mom while Shea lets the dogs out.
out w. the guys, will crash @ sheas.
Okay, his mom says. Love you, stay safe.
Seth feels an anxious little cramp in his gut. luv u 2
The dogs come back in a clatter of toenails and panting breath. Dug comes over and puts his head on Seth's knee and Seth scratches behind his ears. Shea stops in front of Seth and puts his fingertips under Seth's jaw, tips his chin back so he can see Seth's throat. Seth looks up at Shea's concerned face and closes his eyes.
"So, what haven't you been telling us?" Shea says. He sits down on the other end of the couch. "How is...claiming--" Shea stumbles over the word "--me and Seth going to help you?"
Roman makes a face and starts pacing restlessly on the other side of the coffee table. "It's like giving you a little piece of my, my energy or my power. It makes you stronger, faster to heal when I feed on you, so I can feed more often, but it also makes your blood -- I don't know, more potent?" He scrubs a hand through his hair. "When I feed from you, I heal faster, too, and if I'm already healthy, it makes me stronger than if I was feeding from some random stranger."
"Huh," Shea says. "So, if it will protect Seth, and it will help you, why don't you want to claim him?"
Roman's eyes snap to Seth for a beat, and then he looks away. "I don't want to be one of those vampires with a whole harem of claimed humans to feed off of."
Shea opens his mouth, and Seth says, "Hey, Webs, could you get me some water?"
Shea gives him a look that says he isn't fooled at all, but he says, "Sure," and heads for the kitchen. The dogs trot after him hopefully.
Roman looks at Seth.
"Did you even mean to claim Shea?" Seth asks.
Roman drops his eyes. Seth thinks that if Roman had a more functional circulatory system, he'd be blushing. "No," Roman says. "It was, I was--"
"You love him," Seth says, because if anyone knows what that looks like, it's him.
Roman's mouth twists. "Yes."
"Claiming sounds...kinda intense?" Seth says carefully. "So I can see why you wouldn't want to claim me if you don't feel the same way."
"It should mean something," Roman says. "I don't want to start claiming people just for power, that's how you end up like Nepenthe and Marian."
Seth nods. "Okay, so, we'll just be more careful--"
"No," Roman says. He comes to sit on the edge of the coffee table in front of Seth. "I'll do it. You let me feed off you, you saved my life, you deserve my protection."
Seth huffs. "You don't have to, just because of that. I told you before, we're teammates, we're friends, I would have anyway."
"So it would mean something. It's not the same as Shea, but it would still make a good bond." Roman hesitates. "If you want."
Seth tries to think about it, but it's too strange and huge to fully grasp without panicking. But when it comes right down to it...better Roman than her.
"Yes," he says and tries to sound confident.
Shea pads back in with a glass of water. "So?" he says, handing it to Seth.
"I'll do it," Roman says.
Shea nods. "What do you need to do?"
Roman looks uncomfortable. "Basically just make eye contact and bite him, but it's, uh, more like sex than feeding is."
Seth's face heats and he glances up at Shea reflexively. Shea snorts and gives him a rueful smile.
"I can't see how that's possible, but okay," Shea says.
"More like sex for me, anyway," Roman says. He catches Seth's eyes. "Sorry. Is that still okay?"
Seth nods, because he's pretty sure his voice would crack if he tried to say anything.
Shea gives Roman a considering look, then turns back to Seth. "Do you want me to stay or go?"
Seth swallows. He flicks a quick glance at Roman, but Roman's face is neutral. He knows what the right answer is, the non-weird answer is, but -- "Stay," he says in a rush.
"Okay," Shea says easily. "Should we -- bedroom?"
Roman nods and stands up. Seth takes one last gulp of water and does the same. They troop upstairs.
Seth's stomach is tight with nerves and secret, helpless anticipation, the memory of how it felt the last time Roman bit him.
"How are we..." He trails off.
"Get undressed," Roman says. He gives him a quick smile. "Keep your suit clean."
Seth nods, starts undressing. Roman does the same, and Seth concentrates on not staring, on folding his shirt and his slacks neatly. He leaves his boxers on. When he looks up again, Roman's watching him with intent eyes.
"Here," Roman says, and nudges Seth into sitting on the side of Shea's bed.
Shea sits down on the other side, settles with his back to the headboard and his legs stretched out in front of him. Seth can see him when he turns his head. Shea's still dressed, but he's taken off his tie and unbuttoned his collar, rolled his sleeves up.
Seth looks back at Roman. Roman's left his underwear on, too, black boxer-briefs that cling to the tops of his thighs. Seth yanks his eyes up to Roman's face.
Roman sinks to his knees between Seth's legs, his eyes on Seth's face. Seth's heartbeat jumps. Roman leans in slowly and rubs his cheek against Seth's inner thigh. He turns his head and kisses Seth's skin.
"Here," he says. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah," Seth rasps, hands tight on the edge of the mattress. He's already half-hard, from anticipation and the feel Roman's mouth on his skin.
Roman meets his eyes, holds his gaze while he opens his mouth, slow and deliberate. Seth stops breathing at the flash of fangs, and then Roman sinks his teeth into Seth's thigh.
Seth jerks. The pain disappears in a rush of pleasure. It's different this time, though. He can feel Roman's power brush against his mind.
It's like what Marian did to him, but where that felt alien and cold and scouring, this just feels like Roman, warm and familiar. It spills over him in a wave, and he knows that he has the choice to sink or swim in it. Seth keeps his eyes locked on Roman's and lets himself go under.
Roman moans against his skin and lifts his head. The connection doesn't break, heat and sensation still buzzing under his skin. Roman surges up and kisses Seth's mouth.
Seth gasps. He tastes like blood, like salt and copper, but it feels amazing. Seth tangles his fingers in Roman's hair and kisses back. He nicks his tongue on the sharp point of Roman's fangs, and they both make a thin shocked noise when the fresh blood wells up between them.
Roman grips Seth's hips and lifts him, almost tosses him further back onto the bed, so he can stretch out on top of him. Seth's completely hard now, and Roman is, too. There's the familiar shivery tension of orgasm building up in his gut and thighs, and the feedback loop of physical bliss that he gets when Roman feeds on him, but there's something else, too, some hot, dark energy that seeps into his blood, into his muscles, filling him up with a kind of humming power.
Roman pulls back. Seth whines in the back of his throat.
"Shhh, you're okay," Shea says, stroking his palm over Seth's hair. Seth tips his head back, nudging up into the touch. Shea is holding himself very still, his face flushed pink.
Roman is shoving his boxers down, yanking Seth's off, too, so they're skin to skin when he leans back in to press their mouths together again.
Seth rolls his hips up and Roman grinds down against him, and it's all too much. Seth comes in a blinding rush of heat and power. It leaves him gasping.
Roman lifts his head, his hips still moving against Seth's. His eyes are dark and drowning and Seth feels it in the pit of his stomach, that tug of connection. Then Roman's eyes slip shut and he's coming, warm and slick between them.
Roman presses his forehead against Seth's for a moment. He's not breathing, which is weird, but Seth is breathing fast enough for both of them, and Roman's skin feels warm and alive under Seth's palms.
"Fuck," Shea says, low and rough.
Roman lifts his head. He starts smiling, slow and pleased and fierce, at what he sees on Shea's face. "Yes?"
"Yeah, yes, that was fucking--" He breaks off, glancing at Seth and then back at Roman. He shifts uncomfortably. He's hard in his suit pants.
Roman moves off of Seth in that liquid rush to straddle Shea's thighs and kiss his mouth.
Seth's breath catches and his softening dick twitches against his thigh at the sight. He wonders if Roman still tastes like his blood.
Shea groans into Roman's mouth and his hands come up to cup his jaw, curve over his ribs. Roman unzips Shea's slacks, gets his hard cock out without breaking the kiss.
He gives him a few slow strokes, then pulls back. "You should've taken all this off, too. Now you're going get your suit messy."
Shea makes a noise that's half-laughter, half-pleading and bucks up into Roman's grip.
Roman shoots Seth a quick, sidelong glance and his smile softens into something shared and private. Then he leans in and presses his mouth to the side of Shea's throat.
Shea lets out a ragged moan and comes all over Roman's hand.
Seth exhales. He's not sure he should be watching this so intensely. Shea slumps back against the headboard and opens his eyes. There's a raw, red spot on his throat that will be a hickey tomorrow, but no bitemarks. He catches Seth's gaze and smiles, lazy and satisfied. Seth flushes, but can't quite look away.
"Are you staying?" Shea asks.
"Yes, he is," Roman says, before Seth can open his mouth. He wipes his hand on Shea's shirt. "Go get us a washcloth."
Shea raises his eyebrows at Seth. Seth nods, and Shea gets up, unbuttoning his shirt as he goes.
Seth looks at Roman. "Did it work?"
Roman rubs his thumb over the bite on Seth's thigh. Seth shivers.
"Yes," Roman says. "You're mine now."
Seth settles into the back of Roman's mind. Roman's hyper-aware of him for that first week, his presence raw and new in Roman's consciousness. But he gets used to it, the way he got used to Shea. Now he has to concentrate if he wants to know where Seth is relative to him, what emotion is at the forefront of Seth's mind.
They go out with the team after a good home game and Ryan drags Seth out to the dance floor to flirt with some girls. Roman watches idly from the back booth, tucked in next to Shea.
The crowd shifts and Roman sees the other vampire, a tall black woman gliding through the dancers like a shark. Her nostrils flare as she pauses near Seth, then her eyes scan the bar. She finds Roman, meeting his gaze like it's only the two of them there.
She smiles faintly, dips her head in acknowledgment, and moves on, leaving Seth alone.
Roman realizes he's sitting up straight, his shoulders tense. Shea's watching him. Roman makes a face at himself and leans back, into Shea's arm stretched along the back of the booth.
"It worked?" Shea asks very quietly.
"Yes," Roman says.
"You've never been this jealous about me," Shea teases.
"Because gorgeous vampires never hit on you," Roman says.
Which is true, but the reason they don't is that Shea is so clearly his. He hadn't realized how much that half-connection had bothered him, feeding off Seth but not having any claim on him. He can't quite stop himself from reaching out across the bond, and on the dance floor, Seth turns around and grins at him.
"I know where he is better on the ice now," Shea says even more quietly. "Not the way you should know where your partner is, because you're paying attention and you know what play you're running. It's almost like I can feel where he is, even if he's out of position. It's like when I'm playing with you, only not as strong."
The last sentence is pointed. Roman has maybe never mentioned that the reason he and Shea finally started playing so well together was not just practice.
"Huh," Roman says. He gives Shea a cautious sidelong glance. "I didn't know it would happen like that."
"Me and Seth, or me and you?" Shea asks.
"You and Seth," he admits. "And I guess I didn't know you would feel me. We don't -- no one ever told me what a claim is like for a human."
Shea makes a thoughtful noise.
"Does it bother you?" Roman asks hesitantly. "The connection with Seth?"
Shea looks over, eyebrows going up. "No, it's fine. It feels -- it's fine."
Roman only intends to feed on Shea and Seth in emergencies. The rest of the time he feeds on strangers he picks up in bars and clubs at home. He doesn't pick up on road trips; hunting in a strange vampire's territory is rude, if not dangerous.
And it's not like he intends not to feed before the next road trip, it's just a short homestand and he has a hard time closing the deal when he goes out.
The trip is a grind, and halfway through, Roman gets slammed hard into the boards, hard enough that he'd have a concussion if he were human. He passes the tests, but he knows he looks tired and drawn after the game.
Shea frowns at him. "You need a top-up?" he asks quietly on the bus back to the hotel.
"Tomorrow's a travel day, and you can take just a little from each of us. Before you need a lot."
"Okay," Roman says. The curl of hungry anticipation in his belly makes him doubt all of his own intentions.
Shea has the connecting room. He leaves the door open while he brushes his teeth. Roman can hear the hall settling down, guys saying good night, hitting the ice machine or the vending machines.
When it's quiet, Seth knocks on his door.
"Someone order room service?" he asks with grin.
Roman rolls his eyes and pulls him inside. Seth's changed out of his suit, into track pants and a t-shirt.
On impulse, Roman steps close and ducks his head, not quite nuzzling Seth's throat. Seth's pulse jumps, but he lifts his chin, lets Roman breathe his scent in. He smells like warm skin and cheap locker room soap, and under it all is the psychic scent of Roman's claim. He smells like he belongs to Roman.
Roman lifts his head when he feels Shea watching. Shea's leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed.
Roman turns back to Seth. He leans in and kisses the pulse in his throat. "Is here okay?" he murmurs against Seth's skin.
Seth takes a shaky breath. "Yeah."
Roman nudges him back towards the bed. Roman's still wearing his suit pants. He takes them off and folds them neatly, leaves them on top of his suitcase.
Seth is lying on the bed, propped up on his elbows. Roman stretches out on top of him, and Seth folds. Seth is already hard. Roman rolls his hips, rubbing against Seth's cock, and Seth squirms under his weight, embarrassed and turned on in equal measure.
Roman makes a soft, pleased sound and brushes his mouth over Seth's throat. Seth goes still.
Roman is hungry, but it's want, not need. He takes the time to lick Seth's throat, taste his skin. Then he sinks his fangs in.
Seth's blood floods his mouth and Roman almost moans at the taste of it. It spills through him like sunshine, like wine. The last traces of his headache disappear, his tiredness melts away.
Seth does moan, arching up into him. Roman lets himself take only a few mouthfuls, but it's enough to push Seth over the edge and he comes, shuddering, his hands tight on Roman's hips.
Roman licks the last traces of blood off of Seth's skin, and rolls off of him. He settles on his back with his head on Seth's shoulder. The bond hums between them, and he can feel the afterglow of Seth's orgasm, the lazy warmth that fills him up. It takes the edge off the buzz of energy under his skin.
Shea is still watching them, his eyes dark and intent. Roman holds his hand out, beckons him closer.
Shea comes. He climbs onto the bed. Roman reaches out and grabs the front of his shirt, pulls him down.
Shea lets out a small, startled noise and catches himself on one hand next to Roman's head, almost close enough to kiss.
Seth laughs, and Shea looks at him. Roman watches Shea's eyes drop to Seth's mouth. Shea's lips part, and Roman thinks, oh, yes, oh--
But then Shea drags his eyes away and kisses Roman instead. Roman nips at his mouth, not even enough to draw blood.
Shea lifts his head. He sits back on his heels, and Roman lets him go. Shea holds his hand out. Roman takes it, presses a kiss to the inside of his wrist, and Shea lets his thumb stroke over Roman's cheek.
Roman bites him. Shea inhales sharply and his eyes close for a beat, then open halfway, heavy-lidded.
Roman sinks into it, into the taste of Shea's blood, the feel of it lighting him up from the inside. He feels amazing, brand new. He takes the same careful amount he took from Seth, but Shea doesn't have a teenager's hair-trigger.
It doesn't matter. Roman doesn't need the bite to make the feedback loop work. He keeps his eyes fixed on Shea's, his closed mouth pressed to Shea's wrist, and pushes sensation at him, the pleasure of new blood in his mouth, the bone deep satisfaction.
He feels it echoed back from Shea with that edge of arousal, and Shea gasps, curls in on himself. Next to him, Seth takes a quick, shaky breath, and Roman wonders distantly how much of this is spilling over into their connection.
Shea is panting now. Roman pushes again, more like a caress, and Shea comes, untouched.
"Holy fuck," Shea rasps, and Seth makes a tiny noise of agreement.
Roman stretches out between them, warm and smug and completely satisfied.
Nepenthe is waiting for him when they get back. The bus drops them off at the rink. Roman doesn't see him at first, but he can feel him there.
Roman makes sure Shea and Seth leave safely, Seth already fiddling with the radio in Shea's car as they drive out of the garage. Then Nepenthe is standing at his shoulder.
Nepenthe isn't tall, but his age and his power shine out of him, giving him the presence of a bigger man. It makes him feel almost as dangerous as he really is.
"You claimed another one," Nepenthe says.
It's not a question. Roman stays quiet.
"Without my permission."
"I don't need your permission," Roman says.
It's a mistake. He knows it even as the words are coming out of his mouth. He should have apologized and claimed ignorance, or said he did it because Marian wanted Seth and he thought it would please Nepenthe to deny her.
"I thought we had an understanding," Nepenthe says, deceptively mild. "Do we need to have that conversation again?"
Roman feels the ghost of remembered fear and pain. He drops his eyes. "No, sir," he whispers. "It was a mistake, and I won't do it again."
"Hmmm," Nepenthe says.
Roman waits. If he had a heartbeat, it would be pounding.
Then Nepenthe is gone. Roman blinks. The garage is empty and quiet around him, everyone gone. He checks his phone. It's an hour later than when they arrived, Nepenthe clouding his mind like Roman is only a human.
He gets into his car. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the feeling of Shea and Seth in his mind.
They're both safe. Seth is sleeping peacefully. Shea has that soft, fond feeling Roman associates with his dogs.
Shea reaches back across the connection, an inarticulate question.
Roman doesn't think he can project reassurance that he doesn't feel, so he pulls back.
After a second, he texts Shea. Just wanted to know you were home safe.
Then he starts the car and drives home, trying to ignore the gnawing dread in the pit of his stomach.
Roman doesn't want Seth to spend the Olympic break in Nashville by himself.
"So you're saying I have to go to Mexico with my buddies for my own safety? That's rough," Seth says.
Seth doesn't make that argument to his mom, but she agrees anyway. He'll get back a day before Shea and Roman, but that should be fine.
Distance doesn't erase the bond, but it makes it feel fainter. Seth gets an impression of focus and tension if he concentrates on it. Roman's disappointment when Switzerland is eliminated comes through in a heavy wave of static, and Shea's joy at winning the gold medal is so bright it leaves him breathless.
His flight is delayed, of course, but it's still the middle of the afternoon when he lands, still broad daylight. He texts his mom, landed safe! She's out of town for another couple of days on a business trip of her own, so he takes a cab home.
Maybe the sunshine makes him careless. The last thing he remembers before everything goes dark is closing the front door behind him.
He wakes up hanging from his bound wrists. He's naked. He jerks, trying to get his feet under him. The room feels like a basement, cool air, low ceiling, concrete floor, no windows.
He doesn't register anything else about where he is, because all of his attention is on the vampire in front of him. He's white, his skin like paper, with very dark eyes. With Roman, most of the time, Seth can forget what he is. Seth would never make that mistake with this one.
"Do you know who I am?" the vampire asks.
Seth shakes his head, his mouth dry.
"I'm Nepenthe. This is my city, and I'm sorry to say your master has not been very respectful of that fact."
Seth doesn't say anything.
"I want you to call him for me," Nepenthe says.
"I don't have my phone," Seth says.
He knows it's dumb as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Nepenthe slaps him across the face, hard enough to snap his head to the side, and his nails leave claw marks on his cheeks.
Seth's heart is racing. He keeps his eyes down. "I don't know how."
"Hmmm," Nepenthe says. He steps close, opens his mouth slowly, deliberately, so Seth can watch his teeth lengthen as his fangs come down.
Nepenthe bites him, setting his teeth deep around Seth's collarbone. It hurts, a sickening, stabbing pain. When Seth tries to twist away reflexively, Nepenthe's teeth grate against bone, and Seth screams.
Then Roman is there in his mind, all rage and protectiveness and a cold thread of fear that makes Seth's stomach turn over.
Nepenthe lifts his head. His mouth and chin are smeared with Seth's blood. He catches Seth's eyes, and Seth can feel the crushing weight of his will pushing against Seth's. Roman turns it aside.
"Ahh, there we are," Nepenthe says.
He leans in again and bites Seth's chest, over his heart. His whole body is pressed against Seth's, his hand on the small of Seth's back. The bite hurts, but Seth can feel that stirring of heat under his skin, an echo of Nepenthe's vicious pleasure, and that's almost worse than the pain.
Roman is suddenly calm and steady in his mind, projecting nothing but reassurance and comfort. It muffles the pain and that sickening heat, blanks them both out. Seth closes his eyes and lets himself go under.
"What's wrong?" Shea asks in a low voice. "What happened to Seth?"
Shea's kneeling in the aisle next to Roman's seat. Roman blinks, all of his attention on his link to Seth. It takes him a minute to focus enough to answer. "Nepenthe took him."
"He hurt him," Shea says, and it's not a question.
Roman nods. Shea's anger flares along the bond, incandescently hot.
"I can keep him from feeling it," Roman says. "But that's all I can do."
Shea's face is grim, his shoulders set like he's itching for a fight.
"I'm sorry," Roman says. Guilt and fear are a nauseating churn in the pit of his stomach.
Shea looks away, shakes his head. "I let you feed off him in the first place. I told him it would be all right."
Shea stands up, but only to step over Roman's legs and take the window seat next to him. They've got ten more hours before they land in New York, even longer before they get back to Nashville. Roman has never felt more helpless in his entire existence. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the feeling of Seth in his mind.
"Please just go home," Roman says, without any hope that Shea will agree.
Shea does not agree.
They pick up Shea's SUV from long-term parking and Roman directs Shea to Nepenthe's house. It's a newish mansion well beyond the suburbs. There's a tree-lined driveway, a wide expanse of perfectly manicured lawn.
There are still a few hours left before dawn when they pull up in front of the house. The lights are on in all the windows.
"Stay in the car, at least," Roman says, almost pleading. "I can't protect you in there."
Shea doesn't say that Roman couldn't protect Seth anywhere. He gives Roman a long look. "Okay. But if you're not back in an hour, I'm coming in."
"By morning," Roman says.
Shea doesn't say anything. It's the best he's going to get.
Roman gets out of the car. The front door is unlocked. The house is quiet, but the silence that spills out of the room to his left has a creeping sense of presence to it.
He turns left.
The room is gently lit, lined with bookshelves, expensive Turkish rugs on the hardwood floor. There is a Victorian style sofa at the end of the room. Nepenthe sits in the middle, and the rest of his court is arrayed behind him. Marian is there, a few others that Roman recognizes, more that he doesn't.
They are as still as statues, no sense of life to them, for all that they are watching him with avid, hungry interest. The whole room reeks of Seth's blood, but he can't even hear Seth's heartbeat. He touches the bond again, to reassure himself that Seth is still alive.
Roman lowers his eyes and walks towards them. He stops a careful, respectful distance away.
"I see I have your attention," Nepenthe says.
Roman nods. "I'll do whatever--"
Nepenthe stands up and his power hits Roman like a tidal wave. Roman's legs go weak and he drops to his knees like a human.
Nepenthe closes the distance between them in the blink of an eye. He grips Roman's jaw and lifts his head.
"This isn't a market," Nepenthe says. "We are not bargaining. This is your punishment. I will let you keep the other one, but I am going to wipe your mark off of this one and drain him myself."
Roman's heart twists in his chest. "Please--"
Nepenthe squeezes his jaw so hard Roman feels the bone crack. "No," he says, and shoves him backwards. "You may stay or go. I know you will feel it, regardless."
Roman stands up slowly. He can't bring himself to turn his back on Nepenthe, but Nepenthe doesn't try to stop him.
Roman stumbles coming down the shallow front steps. He gets into the car and Shea looks at him.
Roman shakes his head. "Drive."
Shea gives him a hard look, but he puts the car in gear.
How far before Nepenthe can't overhear them? Roman is afraid to test it.
"Well?" Shea says.
"He won't give him back." Roman lifts a hand, stops himself before he can rub his aching jaw.
"What are we going to do?"
"I--" There is a flicker of movement in the trees alongside the car, and then Marian is standing in the middle of the road.
"Fuck!" Shea says and slams on the brakes.
They come to a stop a hand-length from her. She walks daintily around the hood and opens the rear door, climbs inside.
Shea looks at her, then at Roman.
"Nepenthe won't bargain, but I will," she says.
"What do you want?" Roman asks.
"I will get your human out for you, if you help me kill Nepenthe."
Roman stares at her. "You want the two of us to kill the master of the city?"
"You know this is the only way to protect yourself and your humans. Even if you sneak in and rescue him, even if you flee to another city, Nepenthe will kill you all just to make a point."
Roman looks at Shea.
"I would kill that motherfucker myself to get Seth back," Shea says. "Let's not turn down back-up."
Roman turns back to Marian. "Seth first. When he's safe, then I'll help you."
She smiles, careful and closed-mouth. "We have a deal, then."
Seth wakes up slowly. For a moment, he thinks he just had a bad game, that's why he feels so tired and achy. He rolls over and the handcuff around his wrist yanks him back to reality. His heartbeat kicks up, fear sliding icy and sick down his spine as he remembers where he is, what's going on.
Then Roman is in his mind, warm and reassuring.
The door to the little windowless room opens and Marian walks in.
Seth scrambles up to a sitting position on the bed. He's naked. He pulls his knees up, trying to hide his junk, trying to feel less exposed.
She smiles at him. No fangs, but her teeth are very white. "I'm here to help," she says.
Seth doesn't relax. Roman is sending waves of reassurance, but Seth isn't convinced.
Marian picks up the other handcuff, the one attached to the metal bed frame, and just breaks it open.
She holds her hand out to Seth. When Seth hesitates, she raises one eyebrow. Seth slowly holds his hand out, and she grips the two sides of the handcuff on his wrist, twists it apart like it was made of tin foil.
Seth pulls his wrist back, cradles it against his chest.
"You smell like a human," Marian says. "All blood and fear."
Seth is pretty sure that's true.
She reaches into her shoulder bag, tosses something to Seth. He makes himself look down. It's a pack of baby wipes, lavender scented
He looks back up at her, frowning.
"You can't walk out of here smelling like a human," she says.
Seth stares at her. He has no idea what's going on, but it can't possibly be worse than staying here. He fumbles the package open. He scrubs himself down while she stands there and watches. It stings against the bite marks on his collarbone and chest. They're deep punctures, but at least they're not bleeding anymore.
He makes sure he gets his armpits and groin. There's a bite mark on his inner thigh. He doesn't remember getting it, but he thinks maybe if he tried, he could, and the thought makes his hands shake, make his stomach turn over.
Roman's presence in his mind flares brighter, fierce concern coming through the reassurance, and Seth exhales shakily, lets it go.
He uses up the whole pack of wipes as fast as he can. When he's done, Marian pulls a heavy pile of fabric out of her bag and tosses it at him.
"Put it on," she says.
He shakes it out. It's a heavy wool robe with a hood. There's a faint scent to it, something dry and dusty that catches in the back of his throat, makes him think of unpleasant things.
"It belonged to my maker," Marian says.
"Oh," Seth says. He pulls it on. When he stands up, a wave of dizziness washes over him. Marian catches his elbow, holds him upright until it passes.
"Why are you doing this?" Seth asks.
"Because your master is going to do me a favor in return," she says, and that doesn't sound good at all.
She tugs him forward, and he follows her out of the cell. They walk down a hallway lined with doors just like the one they came out of. Seth doesn't ask what's behind them.
At the end of the hallway, there is a dead vampire, a pile of dust and bone fragments.
"Um," Seth says.
"He was asking too many questions," Marian says.
Seth nods and follows her up the stairs and through the door. There are two people waiting on the other side, a white woman and a Latino man. Seth's getting better at this, and he's pretty sure they're human. Marian nods at them and they relax minutely, falling into step next to Seth.
They're walking through what looks like the first floor of a very nice house, marble floors, high ceilings, actual paintings on the walls. They pass an empty, sparkling clean kitchen. A tiny, semi-hysterical corner of Seth's mind wonders what's in the fridge.
They pass a few vampires as well, who give them uncertain sidelong glances, but Marian just sweeps by, her stride utterly confident and unbothered.
The vampire who steps out in front of them doesn't look uncertain.
"What are you doing, Marian?" he asks.
"You know what I'm doing, Johann," she says, crisp and contemptuous. "I've made my choice."
Johann's face twists with anger, and he seems to disappear in a blur of movement. It ends with Johann's hands around Marian's neck and Marian's hand against his chest.
Johann's mouth is open, fangs out, but his face looks more shocked than angry. Marian turns her wrist and pulls a long wooden knife out of Johann's chest, and Johann collapses slowly into dust and bone.
Marian tucks the knife away again, her expression mildly irritated.
Seth realizes he's holding his breath and exhales.
"Shit," Marian's human guy says, and he sounds a little shaky, too.
"Let's not get dramatic, Xavi. Come on," Marian says.
They step around the pile of remains and keep going. The next door they go through leads to an attached garage. There no windows, and the rear windows of all the cars are tinted, so dark they're almost opaque.
Xavi opens the back door of a silver sedan while Marian's other human gets in the driver's seat. Marian gives Seth a pointed look, and he gets in the back, scoots over to the far side. Marian sits down daintily and Xavi shuts the door. There's another smoked glass partition between the front and back. Xavi gets in the front seat, and after a moment, one of the garage doors opens.
"Gently, if you please, Brigid," Marian says.
Seth wants them to just step on the gas and go, but they proceed sedately down the long driveway. The guard at the gate steps out, some kind of assault rifle slung across his body, but when he sees Marian's humans, he gives them a wave, and the gate swings open.
Brigid waves back and they roll on through, turning smoothly onto the main road. They drive at exactly the speed limit. This slow, uneventful escape is killing him. The robe he's wearing makes his skin itch, and the smell of it is turning his stomach. He's exhausted and wired at the same time, and he's actually grateful he can't relax, because the thought of falling asleep in this car, with Marian and her pet humans, is horrifying, no matter what kind of deal she says she has with Roman.
He thinks she can tell, too, from the cool, amused look she gives him.
He doesn't know where they are, or where they're going, not until the last possible minute, when he recognizes Roman's neighborhood. Roman feel stronger in his mind now, but he doesn't start to relax until they pull up in front of Roman's house and Roman and Shea come out.
Roman heads straight for Seth's side of the car. The lock clicks open, and Seth practically throws himself out of the car.
Roman catches him, and Seth gets a wave of relief and worry and helpless anger from him before Shea says, "Easy, easy," and Roman pulls his emotions back.
"You'll be ready for tonight," Marian says, and it's not quite a question.
Roman drags his eyes away from Seth and looks at her, tucked away in the shadows of the car.
"Yes," he says.
"Good." There's a low thrum of satisfaction in her voice. Seth wants to ask what's going to happen tonight, but he's not sure he's ready to deal with the answer.
Roman shuts the car door and tugs Seth back a few steps, and the car pulls out.
Roman herds him inside. Shea follows, ducking into the kitchen for a moment to grab a bottle of water and a bottle of orange juice.
Roman frowns, his nostrils flaring. He pushes at the shoulders of the robe Seth is wearing, and Seth is happy to shrug it off, even if it means standing bare-ass naked in Roman's front hall.
He can feel the hot flare of Roman's anger when Roman see the bite marks on his chest, can hear Shea's sharp intake of breath. His face heats, weirdly self-conscious. Shea exchanges a look with Roman, and some of Roman's anger subsides, replaced with concern.
Seth steps out of the pile of fabric and his knees go weak, grey fuzz creeping in around the edges of his vision. Roman catches him when he stumbles, swoops him up bridal style.
Seth yelps, lets out an embarrassed laugh as Roman starts carrying him towards the stairs, but he doesn't fight it. All of that nervous tension that was keeping him awake in the car has drained out of him, and he doesn't want to admit how good this contact with Roman feels.
"Shower," Roman says.
"Or you can sleep first," Shea says. Roman makes a little noise, and Shea adds firmly, pointedly, "Josi can wait if you're too tired."
Seth thinks he can still smell that robe on his skin, and suddenly he just wants to wash this whole experience off. He shakes his head. "Shower first."
"Okay," Shea says.
Seth leans on the edge of the sink while Roman fiddles with the tap in the huge walk-in shower. He manages to drink half the orange juice, a little more of the water under Shea's watchful eyes.
When he's satisfied with the water temperature, Roman strips quickly and helps Seth into the shower.
Seth is a little surprised when Shea strips down, too, just to his boxers. He steps into the shower, coming to stand behind Seth. He puts his hands on Seth's hips, and Seth can feel him through the bond. He's been feeling him this whole time, Seth realizes, a low, steady hum of protectiveness and anger and worry under Roman's louder emotions.
He lets himself lean cautiously back against Shea, lets Shea take his weight. Shea squeezes his hip gently. Roman rubs a soapy washcloth over Seth's skin with an expression of intense concentration.
Seth is too tired to feel embarrassed about this (too tired to feel excited about it, too, even though being naked in a shower with his captain and his vampire hook up is something he's fantasized about before).
His eyes slip shut.
"Roman," Shea says quietly.
Roman steps back, lets the shower rinse the soap away before he turns the water off.
Seth blinks his eyes open enough to get out of the shower. Roman towels him off.
Roman drops the towel on the floor and leans forward to breathe in the scent of Seth's skin. He presses his lips to the side of Seth's throat.
It's soft, closed-mouth, almost a kiss, but it still makes Seth flinch, his heartbeat kicking up.
Roman jerks back like Seth slapped him, eyes wide and hurt.
"Roman, why don't you get us some more water?" Shea says.
After a beat, Roman nods. He goes out and Shea takes over, putting antiseptic and bandages on Seth's bites before nudging him towards the bedroom.
The bed seems miles away. Seth is fading fast by the time he gets under the covers. He barely bites back a disappointed noise when Shea walks away, but Shea is just getting himself a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.
"Hey, I'm staying," Shea says gently, like he knows what Seth was worried about.
He climbs into bed, settles close enough that Seth can feel his body heat.
The room is full of sunshine. The sheets are cool and smooth against his skin, and they smell like Roman's detergent. It hits him in a sick wave. An hour ago, he was handcuffed naked to a bare mattress in a vampire's basement, and he was, he was--
"Seth," Shea says, and rolls over, pulls Seth into his arms. Seth's eyes are leaking and he's breathing thin and ragged. He presses his face against Shea's chest.
"It's okay," Shea says. He rubs his palm over Seth's back in long, soothing strokes. "We're here, we got you. You're gonna be okay."
It's not that Seth really believes him, it's that he doesn't have the energy to argue. Sleep pulls him into darkness like an undertow.
When Seth wakes up, it's still day time and Shea is still curled protectively around him. Roman isn't in the room, but after a moment, Seth feels the hesitant, uncertain brush of Roman's mind against his. Seth nudges back through the bond. Seth's stomach growls, but he doesn't want to leave this warm little bubble of safety. (It's an illusion of safety, he knows, but it still feels good.)
He's still trying to work up the energy to get out of bed when Roman comes in. He's got a bowl and a glass of orange juice.
Seth sits up carefully. The bites on his chest ache dully, and it makes his stomach flutter uncomfortably if he thinks about it too much.
Shea makes a noise as his arm slips from around Seth's waist to lie across the top of his thighs, but he doesn't wake up.
Roman hands Seth the bowl, spoon tucked under his thumb. It's soup, the canned kind with the little stars, and for some reason that makes Seth smile. Roman puts the orange juice down on the night stand. He hovers for a moment, then sits down on the foot of the bed.
"Thanks," Seth says.
"You're welcome," Roman says.
Shea sleeps through the whole exchange.
"He didn't sleep the whole time you were...gone," Roman says.
"Oh," Seth says. Something soft and warm uncurls in his chest, and he makes himself focus on the soup.
By the time he's done, he can feel exhaustion tugging at the edges of his mind again. But he can't stop thinking about what Marian said in the car.
Roman takes the empty bowl back, and Seth asks, "What's going to happen tonight?"
Roman hesitates. "Nepenthe is going to come here to kill me for defying him and taking you back."
"Are you-- can you beat him?"
Seth feels the kick of Roman's fear through the bond before Roman can block it. Roman looks away.
"No," he says. "Probably not. But I can distract him long enough for Marian to stab him in the back."
Seth stares at him. "Jesus. That's a terrible plan."
The corner of Roman's mouth twitches. "I know. But I couldn't think of anything else."
Seth is going to argue, but what comes out is a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Go back to sleep," Roman says. "We've got a few more hours of daylight."
Seth gives in and lies back down. Shea sighs and burrows closer.
"This is a terrible plan," Shea says.
"That's what Seth said," Roman says.
"That's because Seth is a smart guy."
Their voices are a low murmur above his head as Seth wakes up slowly. He's curled up on his side and Shea is sitting up in bed next to him, one hand resting casually on Seth's hip.
"It's the only way," Roman is saying. "If we can make him come to us, make him so angry that he gets careless, off his guard..."
Shea makes a noise, exasperation but not quite disagreement.
"Besides," Roman says. "It's too late to do anything about it now."
Seth rolls over onto his back, props himself up in his elbows. The sunlight filtering into the room is cool and weak. It has to be close to sunset.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Shea asks.
"Fine," Seth says.
Roman frowns like he knows Seth is lying. Seth frowns back; he's played through worse.
Shea hesitates, then looks at Roman. "Do you need to feed before-- everything?"
"No." Roman manages a half-smile. "I could drain you both dry and it wouldn't make a difference when it comes to fighting Nepenthe."
Seth manages not to flinch.
Roman gives him a quick glance, like he can feel that suppressed movement, then back at Shea. "But I-- I want to give Seth some of my blood."
"Um," Seth says. "Why?"
"I can feel how tired you are," Roman says. "And if something goes wrong, I don't want you to be so vulnerable."
Seth doesn't know how he feels about that. "Is it going to-- change me?"
Roman shakes his head. "It will heal you, give you more energy, but only for a little while." He hesitates. "It will make the bond stronger. And if we did it more often, it would make you stronger, harder to hurt. But just once won't matter much."
Seth swallows. He looks at Shea. Shea is frowning slightly, uncertain. "Whatever you want to do is fine," Shea tells him. "If you're not comfortable with it, you don't have to do it."
But Seth knows Roman is right. He's played through worse, sure, but they weren't good games. He wants to sleep for a week. Nepenthe's bites still hurt, a sharp twinge when he moves his shoulder, his leg.
"Okay," he says. "You can do it."
Roman meets his eyes, steady and solemn. "Good. Thank you."
Seth rubs his palms on the bedspread. "How, um, how--"
Roman lifts his own hand to his mouth, bites down on the ball of his thumb. Blood wells up, but it's not a gush. Roman moves to sit on the bed by Seth. He holds his hand out. He's moving slowly, carefully, like he's trying not to freak Seth out.
Seth takes Roman's hand. He hesitates for a second, glancing at Shea. Shea leans in, pressing their shoulders together. Seth takes a deep breath and brings Roman's bloody palm to his mouth.
It tastes like-- blood, salty and faintly metallic, like getting a split lip. For a second, Seth thinks that's all it's going to be, weirdly normal, but then a wave of humming warmth spills through him. His exhaustion fades away, the sick throb of the bites disappears.
Roman's eyes go soft and heavy, his lips part.
"Does it feel like when you bite us?" Shea asks curiously.
Seth meets Roman's eyes, mouth still pressed against Roman's hand, and Roman shakes his head slowly. It doesn't, not exactly. Seth can feel it through the bond, how intimate it feels to Roman to share his power like this, how it soothes that protective, possessive instinct.
Seth sets his teeth lightly against Roman's palm and sucks a little. Roman shivers. Seth's whole body tingles and he feels alert and energized, like he just took a hit of smelling salts, but better, brighter.
He makes himself push Roman's hand away. He licks his lips.
Roman sways closer. He catches himself at the last moment, still hesitant. It's Seth who leans in the last few inches to kiss him. Roman kisses back, and the heat that sparks in his gut has nothing to do with the buzz of Roman's blood inside him.
Then Roman tenses and pulls back. The soft look on his face is gone, replaced with something set and blank.
"The sun is set," Roman says. "He will wake up now."
"Roman--" Shea says.
Roman shakes his head and leans in to kiss Shea, hard and fast. "It will be all right," he says. "Just -- stay here."
Roman pushes off the bed in a blur of motion, and the bedroom door shuts behind him before Seth or Shea can say anything else. They look at each other.
"You've got--" Shea motions at Seth's face, and Seth wipes at his chin.
"I think I left some sweats here that should fit you," Shea says, getting out of bed and heading towards the dresser.
"Thanks," Seth says. "We should also look for weapons or something, right? Roman's got to have something like that around here."
Shea stops and looks at him.
"What?" Seth says. "We're not going to let him do this alone."
Shea comes back to the bed. He rests one knee on the mattress and reaches out to grip the back of Seth's neck. Seth blinks up at him, and then Shea is kissing him. His mouth is warm and easy against Seth's, and he doesn't pull away until Seth has caught up, until Seth is kissing him back.
When Shea lifts his head, Seth's heart is beating fast. "What, um, what?"
Shea smiles at him, and it's a little sad around the eyes. "I wanted to. And I don't know if I'll have a chance to later."
"Oh," Seth says.
Shea squeezes the back of his neck, quick and gentle, then drops his hand and turns towards the dresser again.
Seth takes a deep breath. Then he turns on the bedside lamp.
It's getting dark.
Roman stands in the middle of his front hall, waiting for -- well, saying "his doom" sounds a little overdramatic, but that's kind of what it feels like.
He can feel night settling on the city, cool and soothing. He can feel Seth and Shea through the bond, warm and alive. He's pretty sure that his claim is weak enough that they won't be hurt if he dies, but it's a little too late to be worrying about that now. He doesn't let himself reach for them.
He flexes his hands. There is a flicker of warning at the edge of his consciousness, a sense of trespass, intruder, and then the front door explodes inwards in a shower of glass and wood.
Roman ducks, getting his arm up to cover his face, letting his back take the worst of it.
When he turns around again, the force of Nepenthe's rage hits him like a sandstorm.
It takes everything Roman has not to fall to his knees. Nepenthe steps over the threshold, paces towards Roman. He's wearing a white linen tunic, and there is a sword belted at his waist.
"Kneel," he says, and Roman can feel the command in his bones.
Oh, fuck, Seth was right, this is a terrible fucking plan.
Roman's lips curl back from his teeth in a wordless snarl. He pushes back against that overwhelming compulsion with everything he has, and his knees still start to buckle. Seth and Shea flare bright in the back of his mind. A surge of power floods down the bond. It's enough that he can lock his knees, enough that he can curl his hand into a fist and punch Nepenthe right in the mouth.
Nepenthe's head snaps back, more from surprise than the force of the blow. Roman twists away, stumbles to one knee. There's a long narrow bench set against the wall of the foyer. He grabs the end of the bench and pushes to his feet, swinging it like a baseball bat.
It shatters against Nepenthe's shoulder, and Nepenthe doesn't even flinch. Nepenthe backhands him hard enough to make him see stars, then throws him into the next room.
Roman hits the living room wall and leaves a dent in the drywall. He staggers to his feet.
There is a crash from upstairs. He jerks his head up. Nepenthe strides into the room. He smiles, nasty and feral.
"You didn't think I came alone, did you?"
Roman does not actually have any weapons in his bedroom.
Seth experiences an entirely irrational surge of irritation over that.
The shattering crash of the front door makes Seth jump. Shea's eyes snap to Seth's, both of them frozen in the silence that follows. Through the bond, Seth can feel the overwhelming force of Nepenthe's mind against Roman's. It makes his stomach clench in remembered fear.
It's instinct to reach out across the bond. When he closes his eyes, he can see the connection between them, between all three of them, like something physical, and it seems easy, reasonable to push that extra power from Roman's blood still buzzing in his veins down that channel into Roman.
Roman's presence strengthens, and the suffocating press of Nepenthe's power breaks. Seth opens his eyes, jolted out of the bond. His heart is pounding. The awful silence from downstairs has been replaced by the sounds of fighting.
Seth takes a shaky breath. "Kitchen," he says. There's knives in the kitchen at least, stuff to make fire with.
Shea nods, turns for the bedroom door.
It opens before he gets there.
Seth doesn't recognize the man on the other side. He gets a confused impression over Shea's shoulder of dark hair and a beard, pasty white skin like someone who doesn't get enough sun.
Shea lunges for the guy, and the guy just throws him aside, like Shea weighs nothing, and comes towards Seth.
He moves faster than a human should, but it's not vampire-fast. Seth's mind goes calm and still, his training taking over.
He steps into the man's rush instead of away, slamming his fist into the guy's solar plexus. The guy grunts and misses a step, but he keeps coming. Seth blocks his punch. The force of it sends a shock of pain through his forearm. The next blow catches him in the stomach and Seth gags, the air punched out of his lungs. He drops to his knees, lets himself fall sideways under the guy's swinging fist.
Shea hurls Roman's bedside lamp at the guy and it shatters against his head and back. The guy whips around to face Shea. Seth kicks the side of the guy's leg just under the knee, and the guy screams as the knee pops. He collapses, but pushes back up with his good leg almost immediately, driving his shoulder into Shea's stomach like a linebacker making a tackle. He slams Shea into the wall with a sickening thump and Shea goes limp.
Seth staggers to his feet. He grabs the power cord of the lamp from the wreckage, wraps the ends around his fists, and loops the slack around the guy's neck. He pulls hard, and they both stumble back a few steps. The guy claws at the cord for a second, then relaxes. He reaches back and grabs Seth's upper arm instead, bends forward and flips Seth over his back.
Seth hits the ground on his back and rolls aside as the guy slams his fist down where Seth's head should have been.
Then someone else slams into the guy from the side and takes him crashing to the floor.
Seth sits up cautiously. It's Marian's human, Xavi.
They roll across the carpet, struggling for the upper hand. The other guy ends up on top, but Xavi grabs his wrists, holds him still long enough for Brigid to come out of nowhere and slam her fist into the side of his head.
The guy goes limp, dazed, and Xavi pushes him over onto his stomach and straddles him, twists one of the guy's arms up behind his back, pinning him down.
Seth looks back at the door to see if anyone else is going to show up, but the hall is empty. He gets up and stumbles over to where Shea is sitting, his back against the wall, his head in his hands.
Seth drops to his knees and touches Shea's arm. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Shea says. He lifts his head and looks at Seth. "Just got my bell rung."
Seth looks back at Xavi and Brigid and the new guy. "What, um, who--"
"This is Leander, one of Nepenthe's humans," Brigid says, not looking away from the guy Xavi is holding down. "One of his oldest, most powerful servants. Nepenthe claimed him -- how long ago?"
"Before your mistress was turned," Leander spits.
"Indeed. I imagine Nepenthe sent him to deal with you two while he takes care of Roman," Brigid says.
Seth reaches out automatically across the bond, but finds nothing but white noise, the buzz of Nepenthe's power blocking everything out. He shoves aside the twist of fear that causes, focuses on the problem at hand.
"What are we going to do with him?" he asks.
"We're going to kill him," Xavi says.
"Wait, what--" Seth says.
"You wouldn't dare," Leander says, nothing but rage and contempt in his face.
Brigid goes to one knee in front of Leander. There is a knife in her hand now, steel, not wood. "Like you wouldn't dare touch Jacob?" she asks.
There is something terrible in her voice, in Xavi's face, old, old fury and pain. Leander's expression changes, understanding creeping in, and with it, fear.
Brigid grips Leander's hair and forces his head back. Seth closes his eyes but he can still hear it, the wet, tearing sound, the splatter of blood against the carpet.
Shea puts his arm around Seth's shoulders, pulls him in so Seth can press his face against Shea's chest, and Seth grips Shea's t-shirt with a shaking hand.
There is a moment of silence, and then from downstairs, a terrible, inhuman shriek of pain and fury.
"You didn't think I came alone, did you?" Nepenthe says.
Roman reaches for Seth and Shea. He gets a confused impression of fear and pain and anger, and then Nepenthe's power washes over his mind, fuzzing the bond with static.
Roman throws himself at Nepenthe. It's like hitting stone, stone that punches back.
Nepenthe is just toying with him, he knows that, letting Roman wear himself out with this physical fight. But it doesn't matter, as long as Marian shows up.
God, Seth was so fucking right.
Nepenthe slams his open palm into the center of Roman's chest, and Roman goes flying backwards, crashes through the coffee table (glass, at least, not wood). He rolls to his hands and knees, and Nepenthe kicks him in the ribs, knocking him onto his back.
"Enough," Nepenthe says.
He draws his sword and slams it straight down through the center of Roman's chest.
Roman's world whites out with incandescent pain. Slowly, slowly, it ebbs to something less consuming, more bearable. The blade missed his heart and his spine, but it pins him like a butterfly to his living room floor .
Nepenthe is looking down at him.
"You missed," Roman croaks, just to kill time.
Nepenthe smiles. "No, I assure you, I did not."
Then Nepenthe staggers, like he's been punched in the gut. He collapses to his knees. His mouth is open, face twisted in shock.
Nepenthe throws his head back and screams, so loud and agonized it makes Roman's ears hurt.
Marian appears, picking her way delicately through the wreckage of the living room.
She stops behind Nepenthe, rests her hand on his hair with incredible gentleness.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" she says. "To lose a bonded servant like that. It's like losing your right hand, or a piece of your soul."
Nepenthe turns his head slowly, stiffly, look at her.
"You underestimated his humans," she says. She smiles at Roman over Nepenthe's shoulder. "I made the same mistake. They are surprisingly fierce. And now Leander is dead."
Nepenthe's mouth works, but no sound comes out.
"How many years of blood and power did you pour into him? An empire's worth, I imagine."
Nepenthe's face is almost inhuman with rage and pain. There is a sense of something gathering, like an indrawn breath. Marian's wooden knife is in her hand suddenly, and then, so fast even Roman can't see it happen, it is buried in Nepenthe's back.
Nepenthe convulses and goes still. Marian's hand clenched in his hair is the only thing holding his corpse up.
In the sudden psychic silence, Marian meets Roman's wide eyes. "You didn't think it was entirely political, did you?"
Roman doesn't know what to say.
"Why didn't he turn to dust like the rest of them?" Seth asks.
Roman carefully turns his head. Seth is standing on the threshold of the living room, Shea's hand on his shoulder like he's holding Seth back. They look banged up, but whole, and the relief makes Roman lightheaded. Or maybe that's the blood loss.
Marian lets go of Nepenthe's hair, and his body folds down, until his forehead rests on the floor. "It takes more than a stake through the heart to kill a vampire as old as he is."
She steps around Nepenthe and reaches for the hilt of the sword in Roman's chest. "May I?"
Roman nods. "Wait," he says.
He glances at Seth and Shea again, then back at Marian. "You will protect them?"
The corner of her mouth curves, a tiny, indulgent smile. "I swear on my bloodline. I will protect them if you cannot."
"Thank you," Roman says.
He closes his eyes, and Marian pulls the sword out of his chest.
It hurts less going out than coming in, at least. He forces his eyes open again, because he needs to see, to be sure. Marian pivots on the balls of her feet. She brings the sword up, still red with Roman's blood, and then down, a long shining arc through Nepenthe's neck.
The sword bites into the floor with a thunk, and Nepenthe's body collapses into rot and dust.
Good, Roman thinks, and lets his eyes close again.
He can hear Seth shout his name, but the darkness sinking into him is soft and cool and silent.
"Roman!" Seth yells.
He lunges into the room, and this time, Shea doesn't try to hold him back. Seth drops to his knees next to Roman. He has his fingers pressed against Roman's throat before he realizes how dumb checking for a pulse is.
God, Roman looks...like a corpse. He's not really dead, or he would be dust, but Roman's presence in his mind feels weak and faint.
"He needs blood," Shea says, kneeling down next to him. He's already rolling the cuff of his sleeve back. His voice is calm, steady, but his mouth is grim.
Shea pats his pockets, frowning deeper, then looks around. Marian holds the sword out. Shea hesitates, then turns his wrist up and drags the underside of it against the tip of the blade.
Well, that can't be sanitary, Seth thinks, semi-hysterically.
Blood wells up from Shea's wrist and he presses it against Roman's mouth.
Nothing happens. A trickle of blood spills from the corner of Roman's lips. He's not drinking.
Seth still has his hand against Roman's skin. He closes his eyes, reaches out across the bond. Roman, he begs, and thinks he can feel a flicker of acknowledgment. He tries to do what he did before, draw up that spark of power Roman left behind in his blood and push it down the bond.
It's like blowing on the embers of a campfire. That sense of Roman flickers weakly, then starts to brighten.
Shea takes a sharp breath. Seth doesn't have to open his eyes to know Roman is drinking. He can feel the flow of power and blood from him and Shea to Roman. Not just power. Seth knows his emotions are leaking through, too, but he can't hold it back, that fear and desperation and something fiercer, warmer that he doesn't let himself think about.
Shea wobbles, leaning into Seth. Seth opens his eyes. Shea looks pale.
"Hey, my turn," Seth says.
Shea hesitates. Seth feels the brush of Shea's mind against his, a wordless conversation.
"All right," Shea says finally.
He takes his wrist away from Roman's mouth, and Seth thinks Roman's chin lifts a tiny bit, trying to follow.
Seth lays his wrist over Roman's mouth. Roman is still for a moment, then his jaw moves and he bites. Seth swallows down a noise at the pain. There's no pleasure in the feedback loop this time. He feels like he's just pouring blood into a hungry void.
Shea puts a hand on the back of Seth's neck, warm and strong, like the sense of him in Seth's head, grounding him.
"C'mon, Roman," Shea mutters. "Get your shit together."
Grey dots dance at the edge of Seth's vision. Roman's hand comes up and grabs his arm, and Seth's heart gives a sluggish jump of fear.
Roman pushes Seth's wrist away from his mouth and blinks his eyes open. The spark of his mind still feels weak in Seth's head, but he burns steadily now.
He smiles when he meets Seth's eyes, tiny and crooked. "You were right," he says, barely above a whisper.
Seth slumps back against Shea, relief hitting him like a shot of whiskey. "I told you so."
There's a flicker of movement at the corner of his eye, and Seth whips his head around to see--
She's dressed in jeans and boots and a pale yellow blouse, and she's holding a shotgun. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. There's blood on her shirt and in her hair, and Seth can't tell how much of it is hers.
"Hi, sweetheart. Are you okay?" she asks, but she's not looking at him. She's watching Marian, her back to the living room wall, shotgun trained steadily on Marian's chest.
Marian is still holding Nepenthe's sword. She tips her head to the side and studies his mother's face.
"Seth?" his mom says sharply.
"Yes!" he says. "I'm fine, everything's fine."
He really hopes that's true.
"You know, I didn't poke my nose into your business, even though it was pretty clear something was going on, because you're nineteen and you deserve to be treated like a grown-up. But I haven't heard from you in two days and a vampire just came to our home and tried to kill me, so I'm going have to put my foot down. What's going on, Seth?"
Guilt feels like a punch to the gut. "Oh my God, mom, are you okay?"
"Yes, although I can't say the same for the vampire. Or the front door."
"You're using silver shot," Marian says. "I can smell it."
"Yes," his mom says.
"I see," Marian says. She flicks an amused glance at Seth. "It's genetic, then."
"More like a family tradition."
"Ah." Marian lets the point sword drop to the ground, rests her hand on the pommel. "I will replace the door, and cover any other costs to repair the damage to your home."
"Are you claiming responsibility for it, then?" his mom asks, voice flat.
"I didn't send that vampire to attack you, the former master of the city did. But since there has been a very recent change of leadership--" Marian nods towards the pile of Nepenthe's ashes "--I do feel some obligation to clean up my predecessor's messes. Consider a gesture of future goodwill."
"I'll send you the bill," his mom says.
"I'll be sure to give Seth the address."
"Oh, I'm sure I can find it on my own."
Marian laughs. "Indeed. Is there anything else I can do to help?"
"Honestly, I'd be more comfortable if you just left," his mom says.
"Understandable," Marian says. She nods at Seth's mom, at Seth and Shea and Roman. Seth kind of expects her to disappear in a cloud of smoke, or maybe a burst of inhuman speed, but she just walks out the door. Xavi and Brigid are waiting at the foot of the stairs, and they follow her out.
His mom doesn't lower the shotgun until they're gone.
"Well," she says. She looks down at them, then drops to one knee and reaches out for Seth.
Seth throws his arms around her, presses his face against her shoulder, and she hugs him tightly.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Seth says. "I didn't think--"
"Shhh, I know, it's all right," she says. Her voice is just a tiny bit shaky.
She strokes her hand over the back of his head and sits back on her heels.
"How did you know we'd be here?" Seth asks.
"I didn't. But when the vampire showed up, Roman's house seemed like a reasonable place to check."
"So, um, you know..."
"I have met him, yes," his mom says. She looks over at Shea and Roman, who look back warily. "Weber, is your front door still intact?"
"I don't know, ma'am," Shea says. "It was the last time I saw it."
"Well, we can find out. Better than staying here, in any event." She takes Seth's wrist as she speaks, turns it over to look at the bloody bite mark.
Seth feels his face go hot, but her expression is resigned, gentle with something almost like understanding when she meets his eyes.
"We need to get both of you patched up," she says, nodding at Shea, too. "Can you all make it to the car?"
Seth and Shea both look at Roman. Roman makes a face. "Yes," he says.
He's still weak though, and the three of them have to lean on each other to make it to the SUV in the driveway.
Shea's door is, in fact, completely undamaged.
"Your family's all still in Canada, aren't they, Shea?" his mom asks.
Shea nods blankly, then his eyes snap to Roman. "They're, he wouldn't--"
"No," Roman says. "He doesn't have any power outside this city, he can't just send one of his people to, to make a point like that in someone else's territory."
Roman's face is pale and uncertain, though, and Shea grabs his cell phone with a muttered curse.
Roman sways on his feet. Seth slides an arm around his waist to steady him.
"He needs to lie down," his mom says.
Together, they get Roman to Shea's bedroom. His mom pauses in the doorway when she sees Dug and Rod have abandoned Shea to check them out.
She frowns over her shoulder at Roman. "Will they--?"
"No, it's okay," Seth says. "They like Roman."
She hesitates a moment longer, then steps aside. The dogs wiggle around her to give Seth and Roman a thorough, happy sniffing.
Seth looks up from scratching behind Dug's ears and sees his mom watching with an unreadable expression.
But all she says is, "Take his shirt off before he lies down, or you'll get blood all over the comforter."
Seth helps Roman get it off, Roman moving slow and stiff. The place where he was stabbed is a raw, red mark on his chest, closed already. Seth sucks in a sharp breath when he sees it. He reaches out but stops, pulls his hand away before he touches it.
The shirt is soaked with blood, still wet, and it's seeped into his jeans, too.
"First aid kit?" his mom asks.
"Um, bathroom," Seth says.
"Okay, I'll be downstairs if you need me," she says, and leaves so Seth can help Roman get his pants off.
Roman lets out a breathy laugh when he finally lies back against the pillow. "I thought your mom was scary before, but the shotgun really brings it to a whole new level."
"Hey," Seth says, not sure if he's offended on his mom's behalf.
Roman touches his wrist. "I like scary people."
"Hmph," Seth says.
Roman closes his eyes. If he were human, his breathing would even out as he falls asleep, but it's more like that unnatural, total stillness settles over him, until Seth has to rely on the bond to know that Roman is still there, not a corpse.
Seth picks up the bloody clothes and carries them downstairs.
"You should burn them once they're dry," his mom says.
Seth makes a vague noise of agreement. He sits down at the kitchen table and lets her take his hand, examine his wrist. She cleans the bite and wraps it with a bandage, familiar precise motions.
She's just finishing when Shea comes in.
"Is everything okay?" Seth asks.
Shea nods, scrubs a hand over his face. He looks exhausted. Seth hesitates for a second, then gets up and hugs him.
Shea exhales roughly and clenches his hand in the back of Seth's t-shirt. When Seth touches him, the bond is stronger, and he can feel Shea's emotions more clearly, a mirror of his own -- relief and horror and that raw blank feeling that's got to be shock.
Seth steps back after a long minute. His mom is tidying up the first aid supplies, politely ignoring them.
He steers Shea towards the table and sits down next to him. His mom pushes the hydrogen peroxide and bandages towards him, then goes to rummage through the fridge and cupboards.
Seth snugs the bandage tight around Shea's wrist. The cut hasn't closed up as well as the bites usually do. His mom comes back with Gatorade and granola bars for all of them.
"Thank you," Shea say, and his voice sounds rusty.
They drink in silence for a moment, then she caps her Gatorade bottle and says, "Seth, I'm going home now. I don't like leaving the gun cabinet alone with no front door on the house. It's just asking for trouble."
Seth's stomach sinks, disappointment and longing seeping through him. "Yeah, okay, yeah," he says. He squeezes Shea's knee under the table and stands up.
Shea looks up at him, and out of nowhere, Seth remembers: Shea kissed him. It's an effort to step back, to follow his mom out into the hallway.
But at the front door, she says quietly, "You can stay if you want."
"You can come home, if you need a break, or your own space, or time to process, or whatever. But if you want to stay with them, you can. You should. You're an adult now, and it's okay to have a life of your own."
Tears prick sharply at the back of his eyes, and he doesn't know what to say. He hugs her instead. The hard clench of emotion in his chest feels like the first time he came home and realized he was taller than her.
Finally, he takes a shaky breath and says, "So does this mean I can live on my own next year?"
She pinches his side. "Adults don't try to weasel out of deals they made."
"Renegotiate, not weasel out of," he says. He smiles down at her, but it fades quickly. "I just, you're going to be alone, and the front door--"
"I'll call an emergency service to come board it up. I'll be fine. You need to rest, anyway."
Seth hesitates, torn, and then ducks his head. "All right. Thanks, mom."
She goes up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "I love you," she says. "Be safe."
"I love you, too," he says. "Call if...."
She smiles. "I'll call if there's anything I can't handle."
Seth watches from the door to make sure she gets safely into her car, then goes back into the kitchen.
Shea is still sitting at the table, head bent, elbows braced on the table.
"Hey," Seth says softly.
Shea startles and turns to look at him. "Hey. Forget something?"
Seth shakes his head. "I'm staying." He can't quite bring himself to say, My mom said I could, but he tells the rest of the truth. "I wanted to be here with you guys."
"Your mom's okay with her teenage son spending the night with his older boyfriends?" Shea says, a faint smile on his face.
Seth snorts. "I think she'd like it better if we actually were boyfriends, instead of -- whatever this is."
Shea's face changes, that teasing light fading, and Seth feels a pang of, of something through the bond that is suddenly too much to deal with.
He closes his eyes for a second.
"Hey," Shea says. He stands up and squeezes Seth's shoulder, and the bond settles, only that familiar warm, steady reassurance coming through. "C'mon, let's go to bed."
Seth follows Shea upstairs on autopilot. He's crashing hard, exhaustion making him slow and clumsy. Roman's still asleep in the middle of Shea's bed. Seth pulls his t-shirt off. It's stained with blood and sweat, his, Roman's, probably Shea's and Nepenthe's human's, too. He sits down on the far side of the mattress, and realizes he doesn't even have the energy to take off his borrowed sweats. He struggles under the covers.
Roman sighs in his sleep and curls towards Seth, throws a cool, heavy arm across Seth's waist. Shea comes over and turns the bedside light off. The last thing Seth sees before he falls asleep is Shea's face, looking down at them, tired and serious and unguarded. Something catches in Seth's chest and he makes a tiny noise, question and concern together. He gets the ghost of Shea's smile back.
"Shhh, go to sleep," Shea says. "We're here, everything's okay."
Okay, Seth thinks, and lets himself sleep.
By some tiny miracle, someone has set an alarm, and they wake up in time for practice.
They have just enough time for Seth to stop by his house and get clean clothes that aren't Shea's. The front door is splintered around the lock like someone kicked it open, and it seems to be nailed shut from the inside. The key to the back door is still under the pot of dahlias, though, so he lets himself in. His cell phone and crucifix are sitting on the kitchen counter. His stomach gives a sick lurch when he sees them. Whoever knocked him out must have taken them off him and left them behind when they took him.
He puts the phone in his pocket and slips the cross over his neck, tucks it under his shirt.
"Seth, is that you?" his mom calls down.
"Yeah, mom!" he yells back. He goes upstairs to her office, and she swivels her chair around to look at him when he pokes his head in.
"How are you feeling?" she asks.
"I'm good," Seth says.
"And Shea and Roman?"
"They're good, too." His throat feels tight, and when he smiles, it doesn't feel completely real. "We're on our way to practice."
"Well, good," she says. She's smiling, too, but it looks as strained as Seth's feels, not enough to cover her concern.
Seth takes a couple of quick steps into the room and kisses her forehead. "Love you, gotta go," he says, and heads for his room and a change of clothes.
"Love you, too!" she shouts after him.
Practice is surreal. He can't believe they're standing around, joking, going through drills like nothing is wrong, even though they all nearly died last night. He's tired down to his bones, but everyone's a little rusty from the break, and he just hopes he doesn't stand out too much. Shea and Roman at least have the excuse of the Olympics.
After practice, Roman pulls them aside. He doesn't look great, pale and unhappy and almost too thin, somehow, the bones in his face too sharp.
"I need to, to eat," Roman says, glancing over his shoulder at their teammates. Shea opens his mouth, and Roman scowls. "And you know I can't take anymore from you guys."
"I know," Shea says easily. "Are you going out tonight?"
"Yes," Roman says.
"Okay," Shea says.
Roman opens his mouth, then closes it. He looks unhappy, unsatisfied with Shea's response. "Okay," he says finally.
Seth doesn't say anything. The idea of Roman feeding on a stranger is a sharp little sliver in the back of his head, even though it's never bothered him before.
On their way to the parking lot, Shea bumps his shoulder against Seth's. "Come over for dinner?"
Seth gives him a sidelong glance. "Sure."
He goes home first. His mom has made chicken with baked sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli, and, well, he can't let that go to waste. He helps clean the kitchen afterwards and then says, fidgeting with a crumpled up paper towel, "I'm going to go over to Shea's place for a little bit tonight. If that's okay."
She looks at him for a long moment, and he's half-expecting her say something about last night, or even their game tomorrow, but all she says is, "All right. Don't stay out too late."
Shea hasn't done anything fancy, just heated up some meals from his service, and Seth doesn't want that to go to waste either. They talk about hockey shit while they eat, which Seth can never get enough of. The dogs beg shamelessly from under the table, and Seth can't help laughing at that.
Roman's hunger is a faint buzz in the back of his head, and it makes Seth restless. He catches himself wondering what's in Shea's fridge while he puts his dishes in the dishwasher, despite the fact that he just demolished two whole entrees.
"Have you ever felt Roman when he was feeding on someone else?" Shea asks.
"No," Seth says.
Shea jerks his head towards the den and Seth trails after him.
"I didn't notice until maybe the second or third time he fed on you," Shea says. He sits down on one end of the couch and Seth takes the other side.
"What does it feel like?" Seth asks.
Shea looks at him, raises his eyebrows, and Seth suddenly realizes he's kind of warm. Hot, almost, skin flushed, palms sweaty. There's a low, familiar pulse of arousal in the pit of his stomach.
"Oh," Seth says.
It's not as intense as when Roman bites him. Seth wouldn't even know it was Roman, except for the fact that there's no reason for him to be getting hard just sitting on Shea's couch.
"Yeah," Shea says, with a quick, rueful smile.
He's looking flushed, too. Seth rubs his palms on his thighs, and his dick perks up a little more.
"The last time he did this, I jerked off," Shea says, "but I was thinking it would be better if someone else was there."
Seth nods. The spillover from Roman is never quite sexual, but it feels so good that his body doesn't know how else to translate it. He really wants to know what it would feel like to make out with someone, to have someone touch him with this whisper of lazy, satisfied warmth just under his skin.
"You wanna--" Shea says, and Seth doesn't even care what the rest of that sentence is.
"Yeah," he says. He pushes up to straddle Shea's thighs, a knee on either side of his hip.
Shea puts his hands on Seth's waist to steady him, and Seth kisses him, hard and messy.
Shea groans into it. He slides his hands under Seth's shirt to touch his bare skin, and Seth drags in a rough breath. He grips Shea's shoulders, but it's not exactly what he wants. He makes an impatient noise, pulls back to tug at the fabric of Shea's t-shirt. Shea leans forward and pulls it off, and Seth does the same with his own shirt.
He can feel the heat coming off of Shea's chest, and when he leans in to kiss him again, the slide of skin against skin feels amazing. Shea runs his hands down Seth's back and lets his thumb dip beneath the waistband of Seth's jeans. Seth rocks his hips, grinding against Shea's abs, Shea's mouth hot and slick under his. He wants, he needs...
"Shhh, yeah," Shea says, low and rough. He slides his hand to Seth's fly, opening his jeans, easing his cock out. Seth makes thin, sharp noise in the back of his throat.
Shea spits into his palm and wraps his hand around Seth's cock, and it sends a bolt of heat through him. Seth takes a deep, ragged breath and moves his hands, reaching down to fumble with the button on Shea's pants. He can't get it undone. Shea lets go of Seth and helps him.
Then Seth's hand is on Shea's cock. Seth slides his hand down the length of it and back up. Shea's completely hard, hot as blood in Seth's grip, wet when Seth rolls his palm over the tip.
Shea hisses. He cups Seth's ass and pulls him closer. Seth braces his hand on Shea's shoulder, has to spread his thighs wider so his knees don't hit the back of the couch. His dick sways with the movement, brushing against Shea's.
Shea wraps his hand around both their cocks.
"Oh," Seth breathes, watching Shea's huge hand stroke them both, feeling the velvety soft skin of Shea's cock slide against his, slick from both their precome.
Shea makes a low sound of agreement. Seth's thighs and abs tense, heat building in his balls, in the pit of his stomach, with every stroke of Shea's hand. He's panting for breath, his heart racing. Under the raw, needy heat of his own body, Roman's satisfaction is a warm hum, and Shea is a faint echo of his own want, a beat slower and deeper.
"C'mon, Seth," Shea says. He squeezes a little tighter, and Seth's hips buck, pushing into Shea's fist. He comes all over Shea's hand.
"Fuck," Seth gasps, his whole body buzzing, lit up with the rush of it.
Roman's presence flares bright along the bond, hot and interested, as if he's suddenly paying attention to them.
Shea is close. Seth can feel it, in the tension in Shea's muscles, in the bond. He ducks his head and presses his mouth against Shea's throat, sucks a bruise into his skin. Shea's head falls back. His hand stutters on his cock, and Roman sends a wave of emotion through the bond, a tangled sense of coaxing and possessiveness.
Shea exhales in a rush, shuddering, and Seth can feel the warm, slick splash of his come against his own stomach. He lifts his head. Shea drags his eyes open and smiles at Seth, smug and satisfied. Seth snorts.
Shea flops a hand out and picks up his t-shirt. He uses it to wipe his hands off, then gives it to Seth. Seth takes it and lifts his weight off Shea, settles down on the couch next to him.
Shea stretches. "Water?" he asks.
"Yeah, thanks," Seth says, dabbing at the mess on his stomach.
He follows Shea into the kitchen. Shea gets a couple of water bottles out of the fridge, then lets the dogs out into the backyard. Roman's presence quiets down, fades into the usual background noise of the bond.
Seth leans against the counter, drinking his water and checking his phone. There's a text from Roman to him and Shea. back soon, wait up 4 me?
ok, Seth types, and after a second, he adds a smiley face emoji.
Shea calls the dogs back in and they go trotting by, tails wagging, each carrying a grungy old tennis ball. Seth's smiling at them when Shea steps in close and kisses him.
It's slow, careful, not like he thinks Seth will break, but like he wants to memorize the shape of Seth's mouth.
Seth's heartbeat stutters and his breath goes short. Shea lifts his head. The bond is completely quiet.
"It's not because of Roman," Shea says, his eyes on Seth's face. "Tonight, this whole...whatever we're doing, it's not because of Roman. I want-- I care about you."
Seth takes a deep breath. "Me, too? I mean--" he lets out a shaky huff of laughter "--I didn't need Roman to make me want you."
Shea smiles at him. The tentative connection between them hums quietly, fuzzy with emotion that Seth can't put a name to yet, but that he likes the feeling of, bright and sweet in the back of his head.
Seth falls asleep on Shea's couch waiting for Roman to come back. He's not sure what wakes him up, but when he opens his eyes, Roman is standing there, looking down at them.
Seth lifts his head from Shea's shoulder and yawns. "Took you long enough," he says quietly, trying not to wake Shea.
"I had to see Marian," Roman says.
Seth stiffens. "What did she want?"
"Nothing, really," Roman says. "She's not as paranoid as Nepenthe, she knows I'm not interested in gaining power in the city. It was more showing everyone else I'd be good, that I won't make trouble."
"So she's not going to....."
"She swore on her bloodline she'd protect you if something happened to me, so you guys will be safe no matter what happens."
Which is good, great, but. "Do you want to, um, remove your claim on me, then?"
"What?" Roman says.
"You only claimed me to protect me from Marian and Nepenthe, and neither of them are a problem anymore. So. I don't need to be marked. You could break the bond if--"
"No," Roman says. "You're mine."
It comes with a wave of fierce possessiveness that makes Seth blink, that jerks Shea into wakefulness. Roman frowns, and Seth can feel the effort he makes to pull that raw rush of emotion back. He takes a couple steps forward and cups Seth's face in his hands. Seth looks up at him steadily, meets his eyes.
Roman bends down and kisses him, slow and deep. Seth takes a startled breath. Shea reaches out, puts his hand, warm and broad, on Seth's back like he wants to reassure him. Roman goes to his knees and Seth follows his mouth, curling over him to kiss him back.
Roman breaks the kiss, sits back on his heels. "I want you to be mine." He looks at Shea. "Both of you. I need, I want both of you. But if you don't--"
Seth shakes his head quickly. "No, I want it." He leans into Shea's hand, too. "All of it."
Roman looks at Shea. Shea slides his hand through Roman's hair and cups his jaw, tugs him up to his knees to kiss him. "Yeah," he says, low and gravelly against Roman's mouth. "I want it all, too."